- China in the Post-Xi Jinping Era May Well Be Different
The United States and China are parting ways. The United States, along with the West in general, has abandoned the hope that China would become more liberal and democratic once it becomes more affluent. That hope had undergirded the United States' engagement policy for more than three decades. It was the primary argument of the Clinton administration for giving the green light for China's accession to the World Trade Organization in 2001. But it has become widely accepted that the engagement has failed. With dissipated hope, tough policies to confront China in every conceivable way are proposed with a vengeance. "All-government" or even "all-society" responses to the challenges posed by China's rise are advocated in the United States and elsewhere.
The ideological thrust of this new "containment" is unmistakable in the bipartisan consensus in US Congress, which recently passed the "Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act" and the "Uyghur Human Rights Policy Act" with overwhelming majorities. Taiwan is once again held as the beacon of democracy for Chinese societies. The United States has reiterated the commitment to Taiwan's defence against the communist threat from the Mainland, whereas barely a decade ago it talked about giving up on Taiwan in exchange for the group of two (G2) cooperation with China. In its thinly veiled Indo-Pacific strategy, America is rebuilding its old Cold War treaty alliances and forming new partnerships against China.
In short, the world is facing the prospect of a new Cold War—a war between competing world orders, political and economic systems and visions for humanity. It is precipitated by a dramatic left turn in Chinese domestic politics under the stewardship of Xi Jinping, general secretary of the Communist Party of China (CPC). Riding on the rapid rise of China on the world stage, especially following the 2008 financial crisis, China has gained confidence in its own "road, theory, system and culture"—the so-called "four confidences" espoused by Xi ever since he took over. The 19th Party Congress offered "the Chinese alternative" to developing countries. Liberal democracies, in particular the United States, feel threatened by the resurgence of a communist state almost three decades after the collapse of the Eastern bloc. Old anti-communist urges are being revived and "Cold Warriors" are drawing new battle lines against China. [End Page 3]
The incipient new Cold War is, however, based on the assumption that China will continue on the current trajectory, with its values, ideological outlook and an authoritarian political system inherently incompatible with liberal democracy. The United States sees China posing a serious threat to the liberal democratic ideal, a threat which has to be contained if not defeated like the former Soviet Union. The new Cold War is also expected to be a long drawn-out battle because China's 2018 amendments to the Constitution of the People's Republic of China (PRC), which now includes a new official ideology dubbed "Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era" and has dropped the term limits for the state president and vice president, suggest that China would stay on its current course for a long time to come.
In this special issue, the articles put this assumption under close examination. The starting point is the belief that the trajectory of Chinese politics, and any other politics for that matter, is not cast in stone by Xi's policies and political line during his tenure. While Xi may dominate the political agenda for a long time to come, other senior leaders could also influence policies in a variety of ways and the post-Xi Jinping era will arrive eventually. The likely changes and continuity in the post-Xi era would have tremendous bearing on the course of US–China relations and the direction of world history, which would be determined, to a great extent, by the characteristics of the post-Xi generation Chinese leadership and the sociopolitical context in which they operate. This special issue identifies and examines the characteristics of the political elite most likely to succeed Xi and his cohort...