Story Stream
recent articles

The Chinese Communist Party has always been insecure about its rule. The combined shocks of the Tiananmen Square demonstrations and the collapse of the Soviet Union only exacerbated that fear. To offset a revolution, the CCP established an informal social contract: The CCP can maintain political control only if it can deliver economic prosperity. 2020 has put that contract in jeopardy. The combination of a pandemic-induced economic crisis and Hong Kong’s democracy movement has forced the CCP to take dramatic actions to secure its rule.

In recent years, the definition of political security has expanded to include not only the Party but its leader, President Xi Jinping. Xi’s rise to paramount leader in 2012 was all but assured when his main rival, Bo Xilai, was arrested on corruption charges. Concerned about his personal rule, Xi started off his tenure with an ambitious anti-corruption campaign. The purge was extensive, sweeping up political rivals of Xi such as former domestic security chief Zhou Yongkang and a former member of the powerful Politburo, Sun Zhengcai. The falls of these powerful politicians sent an unmistakable signal to the political elite that Xi was going to be a different kind of leader.

By 2018, Xi had consolidated so much power that the CCP abolished presidential term limits. 2022 will mark the beginning of Xi’s unprecedented third term, with some thinking that Xi might revive Mao Zedong’s powerful title of Party Chairman. As 2022 approaches, Xi is nervous about two things. The first is that Hong Kong’s democracy movement might spread to the mainland, and the second is that if the CCP cannot rejuvenate economic prosperity, protesters may demand that Xi be denied a third term.

This year, Xi has enacted several measures meant to pre-empt any sociopolitical instability. The first is restructuring China’s domestic security force, the second concerns the CCP’s response to Hong Kong, and the third deals with China’s ethnic minorities.

This summer, the CCP launched a major purge into China’s domestic security apparatus. According to the officials conducting the purge, they are looking to create a security apparatus that is “absolutely loyal, absolutely pure, and absolutely reliable.” Chen Yixin, the key Xi ally conducting the operation, compared the event to the 1942-1945 Yan’an Rectification Movement, a similar purge that strengthened Mao Zedong’s political control. Similar to Mao’s, Xi’s purge is political. If the CCP is faced with popular political dissent, Xi wants to guarantee that domestic security forces are faithful.

For months, China had to handle large-scale democracy protests in Hong Kong. Always nervous about political instability, Xi saw the coronavirus as an opportunity. Due to COVID-19 restrictions, democracy protestors were unable to gather, which allowed China’s National People’s Congress to pass Hong Kong’s new national security law. The law effectively ends Hong Kong’s autonomy, subsuming Hong Kong’s internal security apparatus to the CCP’s.

Additionally, Xi gave a high-profile speech in Shenzhen, a mainland megacity adjacent to Hong Kong. In his speech, Xi articulated his plan to promote Shenzhen and displace Hong Kong as an economic powerhouse. Buttressed by Hong Kong’s considerable financial resources, Xi can use Shenzhen to boost what he calls domestic innovation. Skeptical of Hong Kong’s ties to the West and its simmering democracy movement, Xi sees Shenzhen as an opportunity to combine economic might with Party control. Catapulting Shenzhen ahead of Hong Kong and Shanghai in the international economy will provide Xi a more politically reliable economic operation.    

Xi’s final measure to ensure domestic stability ahead of his 2022 “reelection” is the sinification of ethnic minorities. Xi’s Xinjiang policies have received many high-profile criticisms from democratic countries, with similar policies occurring in Tibet and Inner Mongolia. Xi and the CCP agonize about social unrest in these regions, often citing “separatism” for their harsh measures. At the core of all these minority-focused programs are ethnic fusion and political re-education. Deemed insufficiently loyal, the only way to guarantee social stability is by integrating them into the supposedly superior Han culture. 

However, the CCP has adopted different ways of implementing its sinification strategy. In Xinjiang, Uighurs are rounded up and moved to detention facilities, where they undergo intense political indoctrination. In Inner Mongolia, China has inaugurated mandatory Mandarin classes, curbing traditional culture for Han culture. In Tibet, locals endure “thought education” through military-style vocational schools. All these programs are designed not only to repress traditional culture, but also to harmonize locals with what Beijing considers politically appropriate identities.

Perennially concerned about his personal grip on power, Xi sees 2022 as a fragile moment. Anxious that public demonstrations might arise to contest his unprecedented third term, Xi is pre-emptively cracking down. The political purification of China’s domestic security apparatus, the suppression of Hong Kong and elevation of Shenzhen, and the sinification of ethnic minorities are all meant to ensure Xi a peaceful rise as he becomes China’s most powerful leader in decades.