Scroll to the top

Xi Jinping shaping China's chilling future

Xi Jinping shaping China's chilling future
China's Chilling Future | Quick Take | GZERO Media

Ian Bremmer's Quick Take: Hi everybody. Ian Bremmer here. A Quick Take to kick off your week. All sorts of things going on, but I want to focus on China because that is the most world-changing of the issues that are on our plate right now. Xi Jinping, breaking through term limits, securing for himself, not surprisingly, a third term as General Secretary of the Chinese Communist Party. He is today, without question, the most powerful human being on the planet. And that should concern us in the sense that the system is incredibly opaque.

There are increasingly not effective checks and balances on his authority. It is also not aligned with the future that so many in the world are hoping for when it comes to the way that political and economic systems should function - rule of law, transparency, human rights. And I'm not suggesting that the United States has always been a shining example of all of those things, but certainly, you don't have the level of concentration of power in the US or any democracy that you presently have in authoritarian regimes, and particularly right now in China.

Now, there are a few things that are concerning about this development. One is that over time there had been a hope that China was going to economically reform to a greater extent and integrate itself more in the global economy. That is now becoming harder, in part because the Chinese are focusing much more domestically given their own economic challenges. Things like, for example, their dual circulation policy, given the demographic challenges, given the challenges and indebtedness, it is much more focused on Chinese supply chain. It is much more focused on Chinese consumption. But also the fact that you just aren't getting the same level of data out of China that you used to.

There's not publishing that data anymore, so it's fine. China has incredible amounts of data on their own population. The surveillance economy they have, which helps to drive Chinese political stability, but they're not willing to publish information on the second-largest economy of the world to the rest of the world. And of course, that creates a big black box for the rest of the world to invest. It creates more uncertainty, and over time, it potentially creates more uncoupling, the opposite of the globalization that endured so much human development and wealth over the course of the last 40, 50 years.

There's also the fact that Xi Jinping historically and the Chinese Communist Party for the last 50 years has been much more meritocratic than many other political systems. So yes, it's opaque, and yes, it doesn't have rule of law, and yes, it's not a democracy, but positions of authority. If you want to make it through the Communist Party, you have to be, of course, orthodox and loyal, but you also have to be really, really capable. And the smartest, most capable authorities were the ones that would make it through the top ranks.

That is absolutely not what we saw from the leadership that has just been unveiled around Xi Jinping, where a lot of very capable senior bureaucrats in the Communist Party were sidelined. And instead, it was much more about personal loyalty to Xi. In other words, China increasingly moving away from the top-level human capital that helped get them to where they are today and instead moving in a more Putinesque direction. Not a good thing for the future of China, not a good thing for the future of the planet.

So I do think that what we're seeing coming out of China over the last week are, generally speaking, a little chilling, a little concerning for the future of the planet. I haven't yet mentioned, of course, the most titillating moment of the Party Congress, which was when former President Hu Jintao, sitting right next to Xi Jinping as the closing ceremonies were getting started, was suddenly escorted out by Xi Jinping's personal security. And the Chinese state media said it's because he wasn't feeling well.

For a guy that wasn't feeling well, number one, he really didn't want to go. Number two, Xi Jinping didn't say boo to him on his way out, didn't try to calm the situation or act in a more human and engaged way with someone who was having a health problem, not what you would do if it was purely about health. And then the fact that all discussion of Hu Jintao shut down on Chinese social media, none of that coverage was available to the Chinese population. Those are all things that implied there's something else going on here.

We don't know what that something else is. Was it possible that Hu Jintao was planning on making some kind of an oppositional statement or vote against Xi in terms of securing his third term? We don't know. Is it possible that there was an effort to sideline him internally because of things he had said inside the Party Congress over the course of the past week? We have no idea.

What we know is doing this publicly is an incredible symbolic power move by the most powerful person on the planet. That if that can happen to him, it could happen to anyone, any person in that room, and they are all aware of it. That's pretty extraordinary to see play out on the global stage. And I think that Xi Jinping has no problem with the United States of America and American allies seeing and taking away exactly those messages.

Of course, none of this can be discussed inside China because inside Chinese state media, you have to go with whatever the official narrative happens to be until they change it, in which point, yes, you've always been at war with Oceania. Yes, that's a 1984 reference, increasingly relevant when we talk about the Chinese Communist Party.

That's it for me. Hope everyone's well. I'll talk to you all real soon.

For more of Ian Bremmer's weekly analyses, subscribe to his GZERO World newsletter at


Subscribe to GZERO's daily newsletter