Xi Jinping became the center of attention for not delivering his anticipated speech at the recent BRICS summit in South Africa. Another notable incident was an aide attempting to keep up with him but was stopped forcefully by security while Xi proceeded, unfazed by the commotion.
There’s growing concern about China’s economy amidst its middle class experiencing challenges. Observers were left speculating about Xi’s health or possible political unrest after the summit’s incidents. Yet, another perspective is that these episodes symbolize Xi’s approach to challenges.
Recent months have seen Xi navigating natural calamities, economic setbacks, vanishing officials, public unrest, and global tensions. Despite these hurdles, he remains steadfast. “Xi has indeed faced a tumultuous period,” observes Jerome Cohen, a noted expert on China at New York University. Cohen indicates a growing unease among various factions regarding Xi’s governance.
Xi confronted several crises in past years, such as the economic downturn in 2018 and the zero-Covid debacle in 2022. However, his recent troubles could be attributed to the consolidation of power around him. Rorry Daniels from the Asia Society Policy Institute notes that Xi’s challenges might stem from his tightened control, leading to fewer diverse insights.
On the home front, economic challenges persist. With significant companies like Country Garden Holdings on the brink and factory workers protesting, financial stability is in question. Coupled with this, the unavailability of official data since August makes it challenging to gauge the severity of youth unemployment.
Xi’s solution for young graduates – urging them to endure hardships for the country – was met with skepticism. Natural disasters, like the floods in July, have further strained public confidence. Residents from Hebei province voiced displeasure after authorities prioritized Beijing over rural areas during the flooding.
The stringent zero-Covid strategy has demonstrated the lengths local officials will go to in upholding Xi’s directives, often driven by fear of repercussions.
There are other indications of unrest. Reports from Nikkei Asia suggest Xi faced criticism from party seniors. Additionally, specific legal drafts and sudden official disappearances have raised eyebrows. Drew Thompson from the Lee Kuan Yew School believes such events highlight Xi’s more introverted strategy for China.
Xi’s governance has seen China distancing itself from global forums like the G20, indicating a pivot from Western-led institutions. Despite his absence from the BRICS speech, the summit proved advantageous for Xi, showcasing strengthened ties.
From the Atlantic Council, Niva Yau points out that while China is forming new alliances, there’s a growing domestic sentiment about the financial repercussions.
Cohen believes that while Xi might initially react by tightening his grip, he might have to revisit his strategies. “Although challenging, changes are inevitable. The current state can’t persist indefinitely, and the most trying times might still be ahead,” Cohen concludes.