He is the most powerful man in the world – according to the Forbes ranking, which he dominates year after year – but he remains an enigma. Who is this “red prince”, son of a former minister, who for ten years has ruled the world’s leading commercial power with an iron fist? What does he plan for China, this country-continent that he will govern for five more years – a record longevity since Mao – if he is reappointed this fall at the 20th Congress of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP)?
On site, the subject is taboo. “Xi dada” – “uncle Xi”, his nickname in the official media – is the subject of a carefully staged and closely monitored cult. Gadgets bearing his effigy, poems glorifying him, essays sold in millions of copies and a gagged opposition… “I have been ordered not to discuss, with the foreign media, any subject related to Xi or the next Party congress,” apologized a political scientist based in the Guangdong region. Four months before the great symposium of the PCC, a high and very formal moment in Chinese political life which will bring together nearly 2,300 Party delegates in Beijing, any comment is thus prohibited.
Behind the scenes, however, the omnipotent Chinese president must deal with other caciques. “The political balances are fragile. In reality, nothing is gained for Xi Jinping, analyzes the Canadian Alex Payette, who heads the strategic and geopolitical intelligence consulting company Cercius. His leadership is not unanimous. He must find support within many currents. And the period is not the easiest.” Between the Ukrainian crisis, in the face of which Beijing remains in retreat, and the zero-Covid strategy which freezes many megacities of the country and paralyzes whole sections of the national economy, the warning signals are multiplying. To the point that some economists do not rule out a risk of recession in the coming months. This would be a first since the Maoist era! “The personal legitimacy of Xi Jinping is directly called into question”, assures the expert.
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In response, factions within the CCP itself are concerned about its management, deemed intransigent, of the health crisis. In particular in Shanghai – which generates 4% of the national GDP – where strict confinement was imposed for ten weeks on its 25 million inhabitants following an outbreak of Covid-19 cases. “The local political and economic forces nevertheless fought until the last day to refuse the complete confinement of the megalopolis”, notes Alex Payette. In vain. Xi Jinping remained adamant. And dispatched, at the beginning of April, nearly 40,000 additional health personnel and several thousand soldiers. The stakes are crucial and many guess, behind this battle against the coronavirus, a fierce political struggle in which the strong man of the regime plays big. Especially since other cities – including Beijing – are also threatened with confinement. A situation that worries, on the spot, a population tired of so many restrictions. “More and more ordinary citizens are criticizing the zero-Covid strategy, considers a French entrepreneur, from Shanghai.
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