Analyst: Xi Jinping's power grab copes with U.S. distrust

By Elizabeth Shim  |  Dec. 5, 2017 at 1:15 AM
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NEW YORK, Dec. 5 (UPI) -- Chinese President Xi Jinping may be consolidating his power following the 19th Party Congress, because he believes China is facing its most challenging period, a U.S. analyst said Monday.

Andrew Nathan, a professor of political science at Columbia University, said Beijing perceives China's emergence as the world's second-largest economy is being met with wariness from the United States.

Current U.S. attitudes are being interpreted as presenting its own set of problems to China.

"I think the Chinese believe that inevitably the dominant power in the system is going to resist their rise," Nathan said at the India China Institute at The New School. "I think they think the United States looked down on China for a long time, and figured the Chinese didn't know how to tie their shoes right and we could tell them how to do it."

"Now [the Americans] suddenly are realizing that [the Chinese] represent some kind of a challenge." he added. "The Chinese expect by the laws of international affairs that the United States will find a way to resist the rise of China."

The United States and China have confronted each other on such issues as Beijing's military buildup on artificial islands in the South China Sea.

That tense standoff, however, has died down since U.S. President Donald Trump assumed office.

"China views Trump as manna from heaven, as a sort of unexpected relief because Obama had a strategy, the so-called Pivot to Asia and the Trans-Pacific Partnership, designed not to contain China but to bounce back against China," Nathan said. "[But] they still think managing the United States is a very tough challenge."

"Trump of course is unpredictable," the analyst added.

The Trump administration recently opposed the granting of additional trading privileges to China at the World Trade Organization, throwing a wrench into improved relations.

The testy relationship between the world's two largest economies could explain China's foreign policy.

Following the resignation of Zimbabwe's Robert Mugabe, reports surfaced of Chinese involvement in his removal.

"I know the chief of Zimbabwe's army visited China shortly before they carried out this non-coup coup against Mugabe," Nathan told UPI, but added, "We have no way of knowing whether he told the Chinese he would do it, or whether he asked for their permission or assistance."

But far from a desire to export Chinese models of governance or development, China's outreach to dictatorships and liberal democracies alike is an invitation to an alternative to the United States.

Nathan told UPI the main point China wants to drive home in countries like Zimbabwe, is that "you guys can go your own way, you don't have to adopt the American way."

China's perception of U.S. policy is also affecting how Beijing deals with a belligerent North Korea.

"China could squeeze the North Korean regime to death but...they're not going to do more," Nathan told UPI. "The Chinese feel the North Korean problem is created by the United States."

The problems range from most recently Trump's tweets and use of nicknames to address Kim Jong Un, to former President George W. Bush's inclusion of North Korea in an Axis of Evil in 2002.

"[Bill] Clinton wanted to negotiate with the North Koreans," Nathan said.

North Korea's provocations are presenting disruptions to Xi's goal of greater control over China.

Zha Jianying, the China representative at the India China Institute, said Beijing's 19th Party Congress in October was overshadowed by the Chinese leader's three-and-a-half-hour speech, an "endless telling of self-congratulatory platitudes," marked by, "Exaggerated rhetoric, even by the standards of the Mao era."

Behind the façade of authoritarianism, however, the leadership may be anxious about "managing the Chinese people," Nathan said.

"In China there's a volcano underneath that can come out at any time, that's my sense of it," the analyst said, citing public dissatisfaction over government handling of natural and man-made disasters. "There seems to be an underlying layer of anger."

While few in number, feminist activists and human rights lawyers are seen as "sparking this anger," and are promptly arrested because of their potential impact on the party's rule, Nathan said.

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