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Xi regime swinging to the left

Disturbing rumors are spreading that sometime this autumn there will be a large-scale purge in the Chinese Communist Party. As if to substantiate the rumors, the party’s Propaganda Department, which is dominated by conservatives, has stepped up unabashed ideological control.

As if in response, the so-called leftists who revere Mao Zedong’s teachings are actively organizing rallies and attacking democracy-minded intellectuals as “traitors” over the Internet.

Behind these moves is the move of President Xi Jinping, who, three months into his position, has made no attempt to hide his conservative nature. This has disappointed many intellectuals within the party as they see little or no chance of reforms being implemented by Xi, who they say “is an ex-member of the Red Guards after all.”

Since the formation of the new government in February under Prime Minister Li Keqiang, a rivalry has surfaced within the party and the government between the conservative camp representing the vested interests of big state-run enterprises that are part of the military-industrial complex and the reformist camp trying to contain them.

Ahead of the 3rd Plenary Session of the 18th Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party next fall, which will adopt detailed policies for the Xi-Li regime, Xi has leaned leftward, emphasizing the importance of ideological “purity” among the 83 million party members. It is feared that up to 20 million members could be purged from the party, which in turn would result in a full-scale party power struggle.

Xi’s predecessor, Hu Jintao, used the expression “purity of the party” in the party’s National Congress last year. Hu’s aim was to eliminate corrupt and incapable party members. Xi aims to cleanse the party of “ideological deterioration.” This is based on a way of thinking peculiar to the class struggle in the Mao years, whose tenet is exposing party members contaminated by the bourgeois way of thinking.

Xi belongs to the generation of the Cultural Revolution and was a member of the Red Guards. After he became general secretary of the party in November 2012, and before he became Chinese president in March 2013, he made it clear that he will inherit the market opening and reform policies of Deng Xiaoping.

But it is said that since he became Chinese president, the distance between him and his policy aides close to the reformist camp has grown further apart. Liu Yunshan, a conservative who had long controlled the Propaganda Department and stresses the importance of “social stability,” was appointed first secretary of the party’s Central Committee Secretariat. He is increasing his influence.

In mid-May, universities in many parts of China received a notice “from the highest leadership,” listing seven subjects that must not be taught to students and as many subjects that should be taught. Specifically the notice says:

(1) Instead of conducting classes on human rights and other universal values, instruct students on “Chinese-style values”;

(2) Instead of discussing freedom of the press, teach the benefits of media control by the Communist Party;

(3) Instead of explaining what a civil and autonomous society for citizens means, teach why society needs controls;

(4) Instead of giving lessons on citizens’ rights, teach social harmony;

(5) Instead of underscoring the party’s historic mistakes (like those of Mao), teach the achievements of Mao and Deng;

(6) Instead of criticizing the privileged classes, teach the “dreams of China”;

(7) Instead of stressing the independence of the judiciary, teach the need to leave judiciary matters in the hands of the party’s Central Politics and Law Commission.

All seven themes represent bones of contention between the conservatives and the liberals. If the idea behind the notice to the universities was to provide criteria for a major party purge this autumn, reformists who favor expansion of civil rights and politics based on the constitution could be wiped out of the party structure.

Signs of change are also beginning to emerge in the foreign policy of the Xi regime. The May 8 issue of the People’s Daily, the party organ, carried a provocative essay calling for resuming debate over the status of the Ryukyu Islands, adding that the problem of sovereignty remains unresolved.

This represents a major departure from Beijing’s past policy of not discussing the argument that under the 1943 Cairo Declaration, the United States and the Republic of China (under Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek) agreed that the two countries would jointly control the Ryukyus.

The Chinese leadership is trying to fan anti-Japanese sentiment among Chinese citizens and to strengthen the position of the conservatives by complicating the territorial dispute over the Senkaku Islands, A veteran Chinese diplomat was right when he confided that China’s diplomacy today is a reflection of domestic politics.

Something unusual also happened when Prime Minister Li visited India in May. He departed from the past pattern of Chinese leaders first visiting Pakistan, which is Beijing’s ally. This time he cemented economic cooperation with India — strategic diplomacy designed to counter Japan and the U.S.’s attempt to have close relations with India.

Just prior to Li’s visit to India, Chinese troops advanced into and pitched tents in areas in western Kashmir, where the boundary between China and India has not yet been demarcated. If this move represented the military’s attempt to throw cold water on Li’s diplomacy, it would mean that the Xi regime is not monolithic. Conversely, if the Chinese military made that move without the approval of President Xi, it would mean that he is rocked by dissent from conservatives and the military.

Only days before Xi met with President Barack Obama in California early June, China launched a space rocket — an act that the U.S. hates to see most. American experts believe the rocket was an anti-satellite weapon. If so, the launching is by far the biggest provocation to the U.S. military, which could not have come without the approval of Xi, who chairs the party’s Central Military Commission.

The Xi regime is swayed by military hardliners as well as party conservatives. It appears likely that more confusion is in store for China’s diplomacy as autumn approaches.

This is an abridged translation of an article from the June issue of Sentaku, a monthly magazine covering Japanese political, social and economic scenes.