Russia’s Invasion of Ukraine Backfires on Xi Jinping

CommentaryRussia’s invasion of Ukraine has created serious pressure on China and particularly on Chinese Communist Party (CCP) leader Xi Jinping, as evidenced by the recent spate of speculations about Xi losing power. Such speculations range from a “soft coup d’état” against Xi to a “voluntary abdication.” Furthermore, some China observers recently noted that Xi has been missing from the front pages of Beijing’s official mouthpiece. Premier Li Keqiang has been receiving more media attention lately. In a rare move, People’s Daily dedicated an entire page to Li, publishing a speech he delivered at a work conference for CCP cadres on April 25. The imprudent joint declaration signed by Xi and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin on Feb. 4 before the invasion—in which both pledged that their “friendship knows no bound” and “cooperation knows no limit”—shows that China is tied to the Russian chariot. Hence, Xi’s fate would be linked to the outcome of the invasion. If Russia won a swift victory and the war ended soon, the outcry would be short-lived, and the moral pressure against Xi siding with Moscow would not be a protracted one. Now that the war has become a sluggish quagmire, such moral pressure against Xi becomes more unbearable. One indication of the adverse effect of the long, drawn-out war on Xi is that in the “rumored” open letter by former Premier Zhu Rongji criticizing Xi’s policies, the Russian invasion took up the most space. Former Chinese Premier Zhu Rongji in Beijing, China, in July 2011. (Feng Li/Getty Images) According to a web-based version of the letter that contained nine points, Zhu wrote the following (below is a rough translation): “[We should] Oppose wolf-warrior diplomacy, oppose leaning toward Russia, and resolutely oppose Russia’s acts of aggression, and seize the opportunity to improve relations with the West. “[We should] keep firmly in mind what Old Deng [former leader Deng Xiaoping] and [former] Foreign Minister Qian [Qichen] said: ‘Russia will always be a strategic threat to the CCP, and the Russians cannot be trusted or befriended. We must guard against it like wolves.’ “We should not smash the $1,700 billion worth of business with the West for the sake of Russia’s $100 billion business, nor can we let Russia set a precedent for aggression against its neighbors. When the Soviet Union invaded Czechoslovakia and Afghanistan, we were against it. “Moreover, the agreement with Russia should be discussed openly … and the personal friendship with Putin should not take precedence over national interests.” Compared with the other complaints against Xi, this is the lengthiest one. This shows that Xi’s support for the Russian invasion has backfired. Zhu’s other complaints include Xi’s extreme lockdown policies that harm the economy, his decision to return to a planned economy focusing on state-owned enterprises at the expense of private firms, and his attempt to cling to power by promoting a personality cult. A worker in a protective suit walks on a closed bridge during the lockdown in Shanghai, China, on May 18, 2022. (Aly Song/File Photo/Reuters) Zhu also suggested that the preparation for the CCP’s upcoming 20th National Congress should not be the sole prerogative of the incumbent leadership but should include members of the retired senior leaders. He even suggested that the preparatory work should be led by Party elders like Hu Jintao, Zeng Qinghong, and Wang Yang, the No. 4 man in the current power line-up representing the incumbents. The Party’s National Congress is a major political event held every five years where leadership changes are announced. Whoever is in charge of organizing this important event will call the shots in deciding the new power line-up. Since Xi wants to secure a third and perhaps life term, he must first muster the authority to prepare for the event. Thus, Zhu’s proposal deprives Xi of such authority, preventing him from holding onto power. None of the three persons recommended for this job are Xi’s men. But Xi retaliated right away. After Zhu’s letter appeared in mid-March, Xi issued a document on May 16, titled “Opinions on Strengthening Party Building Work for Retired Cadres in the New Era” (the “Opinions”), which explicitly stated that the retired senior cadres (RSCs), especially those who held high-ranking positions, should not do the following: “arbitrarily discuss the major policies of the central party, spread negative political remarks, and participate in illegal social activities.” Instead, they should take an exemplary role in supporting Xi. Clearly, this is meant to prevent those RSCs like Zhu, who still wield political influence, from raising dissident views. Apart from silencing them, the “Opinions” stressed that tighter control over these RSCs would be in place to prevent them from forming a pressure group. To do this, the CCP would establish a system to monitor the movements of RSCs, such as when they travel in and out of th

Russia’s Invasion of Ukraine Backfires on Xi Jinping

Commentary

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has created serious pressure on China and particularly on Chinese Communist Party (CCP) leader Xi Jinping, as evidenced by the recent spate of speculations about Xi losing power.

Such speculations range from a “soft coup d’état” against Xi to a “voluntary abdication.” Furthermore, some China observers recently noted that Xi has been missing from the front pages of Beijing’s official mouthpiece. Premier Li Keqiang has been receiving more media attention lately. In a rare move, People’s Daily dedicated an entire page to Li, publishing a speech he delivered at a work conference for CCP cadres on April 25.

The imprudent joint declaration signed by Xi and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin on Feb. 4 before the invasion—in which both pledged that their “friendship knows no bound” and “cooperation knows no limit”—shows that China is tied to the Russian chariot. Hence, Xi’s fate would be linked to the outcome of the invasion.

If Russia won a swift victory and the war ended soon, the outcry would be short-lived, and the moral pressure against Xi siding with Moscow would not be a protracted one. Now that the war has become a sluggish quagmire, such moral pressure against Xi becomes more unbearable.

One indication of the adverse effect of the long, drawn-out war on Xi is that in the “rumored” open letter by former Premier Zhu Rongji criticizing Xi’s policies, the Russian invasion took up the most space.

Epoch Times Photo
Former Chinese Premier Zhu Rongji in Beijing, China, in July 2011. (Feng Li/Getty Images)

According to a web-based version of the letter that contained nine points, Zhu wrote the following (below is a rough translation):

“[We should] Oppose wolf-warrior diplomacy, oppose leaning toward Russia, and resolutely oppose Russia’s acts of aggression, and seize the opportunity to improve relations with the West.

“[We should] keep firmly in mind what Old Deng [former leader Deng Xiaoping] and [former] Foreign Minister Qian [Qichen] said: ‘Russia will always be a strategic threat to the CCP, and the Russians cannot be trusted or befriended. We must guard against it like wolves.’

“We should not smash the $1,700 billion worth of business with the West for the sake of Russia’s $100 billion business, nor can we let Russia set a precedent for aggression against its neighbors. When the Soviet Union invaded Czechoslovakia and Afghanistan, we were against it.

“Moreover, the agreement with Russia should be discussed openly … and the personal friendship with Putin should not take precedence over national interests.”

Compared with the other complaints against Xi, this is the lengthiest one. This shows that Xi’s support for the Russian invasion has backfired. Zhu’s other complaints include Xi’s extreme lockdown policies that harm the economy, his decision to return to a planned economy focusing on state-owned enterprises at the expense of private firms, and his attempt to cling to power by promoting a personality cult.

Epoch Times Photo
A worker in a protective suit walks on a closed bridge during the lockdown in Shanghai, China, on May 18, 2022. (Aly Song/File Photo/Reuters)

Zhu also suggested that the preparation for the CCP’s upcoming 20th National Congress should not be the sole prerogative of the incumbent leadership but should include members of the retired senior leaders. He even suggested that the preparatory work should be led by Party elders like Hu Jintao, Zeng Qinghong, and Wang Yang, the No. 4 man in the current power line-up representing the incumbents.

The Party’s National Congress is a major political event held every five years where leadership changes are announced. Whoever is in charge of organizing this important event will call the shots in deciding the new power line-up.

Since Xi wants to secure a third and perhaps life term, he must first muster the authority to prepare for the event. Thus, Zhu’s proposal deprives Xi of such authority, preventing him from holding onto power. None of the three persons recommended for this job are Xi’s men.

But Xi retaliated right away. After Zhu’s letter appeared in mid-March, Xi issued a document on May 16, titled “Opinions on Strengthening Party Building Work for Retired Cadres in the New Era” (the “Opinions”), which explicitly stated that the retired senior cadres (RSCs), especially those who held high-ranking positions, should not do the following: “arbitrarily discuss the major policies of the central party, spread negative political remarks, and participate in illegal social activities.” Instead, they should take an exemplary role in supporting Xi.

Clearly, this is meant to prevent those RSCs like Zhu, who still wield political influence, from raising dissident views. Apart from silencing them, the “Opinions” stressed that tighter control over these RSCs would be in place to prevent them from forming a pressure group. To do this, the CCP would establish a system to monitor the movements of RSCs, such as when they travel in and out of the country. RSCs going abroad would undergo a strict application and screening process.

In the CCP’s history, regime changes initiated by RSCs are not uncommon. The most cited one was the 1976 coup that took place after the death of Mao Zedong, the founder of the communist regime. A handful of senior cadres who were still influential within the Party and the army decided to take down the so-called “Gang of Four,” Mao’s designated successors.

In 1986, Deng and other Party elders secretly worked together to remove then-Party Secretary Hu Yaobang. In 1989, the same RSCs decided to purge then-General Secretary Zhao Ziyang because he was against using force to suppress pro-democracy student protesters in Tiananmen Square.

Given the inexplicable influence of Party elders, a phenomenon unique to the CCP, Xi is very concerned that they will join forces to take him down. But the fact that Xi could still issue a document to rein in Party elders shows that the power struggle is still too close to call.

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.


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Ching Cheong is a graduate of the University of Hong Kong. In his decades-long journalism career, he has specialized in political, military, and diplomatic news in Hong Kong, Beijing, Taipei, and Singapore.