How best to solidify your authority than by purging your predecessor?
The scene seen around the world now had certain Death of Stalin elements to it.
“China’s 20th Party Congress concluded on Saturday with a rare and shocking piece of live drama. Hu Jintao, the leader of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) from 2002 to 2012, was publicly escorted away from the Party Congress by staff, visibly confused and upset, just before the final votes of the session. Hu was seated in a prominent position next to current CCP leader Xi Jinping, and the incident was caught on camera; he appeared to ask Xi and Premier Li Keqiang a question, to which they both nodded, while Xi prevented him from taking some papers by placing his hand on them. Li Zhanshu, another prominent party leader, got up to aid Hu as he left but was tugged back down with a pull on his jacket by political theorist Wang Huning, seated next to him.”
Huning had been described as the theorist behind Xi’s regime.
People can interpret the scene in various ways, but the bottom line is that Xi sent the message that he is personally in charge, that he enjoys total control over the party and the country, and that he’s just getting started. With a third term and no regard for the age limit, Xi wants to be the new Mao. His closing argument is that past leaders, including Hu, were corrupt and weak, and had deviated from dogma while allowing corruption to flourish. A much more extensive crackdown to reshape the party and the country are likely coming. Zero COVID is a useful pretext for this.
A good deal of the speculation about China’s moves on Taiwan have centered around Xi’s mandate. He now has one. And a sizable one too. It won’t survive a botched invasion, the way Putin’s has, but Xi would like to have that kind of authority and the cult of personality to go with it. His basic argument, although it will never be put into those terms, is fairly similar. Like Putin, he can claim to have provided relative prosperity while exercising national strength and purging corruption. Even Zero COVID can eventually be used as a lever for a purge, in a typical Stalinesque fashion, by blaming subordinates for overreaching their authority.
Nor can it be lost on anyone that Xi is sending a message of strength at the same time that his opposite number is sending a message of weakness.
Compare these two clips.
In China, the party purges the likes of Biden. In America, they appear to run things.