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What Is Xi Worried About on Communist China's 70th Birthday?

What Is Xi Worried About on Communist China's 70th Birthday?

"We have stood up!" were communist leader Mao Zedong's words just days before he proclaimed the foundation of the People's Republic of China (PRC) 70 years ago this morning. Having won an unlikely victory over Western-backed nationalists in a brutal civil war, Mao's message was one of defiance, solidarity, and continued struggle.


Today Chinese president Xi Jinping will oversee a massive celebration of that moment, featuring tens of thousands of performers and troops, hundreds of tanks, planes and other military vehicles and even, it seems, a new nuclear weapon that can reach the US. The PRC's 70th is so politically sensitive that the authorities have choked off the internet in Beijing, ordered homing pigeons to stay in their coops, and replaced the usual TV soap operas with nationalistic historical dramas.

For Xi, it's an occasion to showcase China's tremendous achievement: this is a country that rose from poverty, war, and external subjugation to become the world's second largest economy, a leading force in science and technology, and a strong contender for 21st century superpower status. (He will, of course, omit the hideous suffering inflicted by Mao's Great Leap Forward and the social and political damage inflicted by the Cultural Revolution.)

But Xi, who has amassed more power than any leader since the "Great Helmsman" himself while bolstering the communist party's power over all aspects of life in China, is also keen to echo Mao's 1949 calls for unity and resilience as he braces the nation for potentially turbulent times ahead.

What's he up against?

The economy is sputtering. After bringing close to a billion people out of poverty since 1979, an economy that became the 20th century's "workshop to the world" is now expanding at its slowest pace in thirty years. That's not quite as bad as it sounds –but it's a looming challenge for a system where part of the deal with the population is: little political freedom, lots of growth.

Hong Kong and Taiwan aren't playing ball. The Hong Kong protests, now in their 15th week, are an explicit challenge to Beijing's authority over the territory. And the self-governing island of Taiwan, where pro-independence president Tsai-ing Wen is likely to win another term in January, isn't interested in being "reincorporated" into China, as Xi would like. That jars with Xi's vision of a unified China under firm control of the Communist Party.

A bigger global struggle awaits. The US-China trade war that's been capturing headlines since last year is only the opening salvo in what will be a broader global competition between Beijing and Washington for economic, technological and potentially even military supremacy. That is a struggle that will outlast both US President Donald Trump and Xi, and will help shape the next 70 years of the People's Republic.

The Hindu Kush Himalayan region, stretching for more than 2,000 miles, is home to the world's highest mountains. The mountain range is also home to the world's third-largest concentration of snow and ice, earning it the moniker the third pole; only the North and South Poles contain more. The glaciers of the Hindu Kush Himalayas are the main source of fresh water for around two billion people living in the region. However, by the end of this century, two-thirds of that snow and ice could be lost because of climate change. A network of data scientists and environmentalists around the world, and on the ground in the Hindu Kush Himalayas, are working to understand the extent of glacial melting in the Hindu Kush Himalayan region, its effects and what can be done to minimize its impact. To read more visit Microsoft on the Issues.

When Italy's Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte resigned Tuesday — plunging the country into chaos as it faces once-in-a-generation public health and economic crises — he became the fourteenth Italian to vacate the prime ministership in three decades. (For contrast, Germany has only had three chancellors since 1982, and France has had five presidents.)

But Conte, who had no previous political experience until he was tapped for the top job in 2018, is not so much throwing in the towel as he is taking a massive gamble that President Sergio Mattarella will again appoint him to head Conte's third coalition government in less than three years.

The recent dysfunction is unique even within the context of instability-prone Italian politics. How did Italy get here, and what might come next?

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The Democrats shocked the country by eking out a 50-50 majority in the US Senate earlier this month, securing control of the House, Senate and Executive. But do they have enough power to impose the kinds of restrictions to Big Tech that many believe are sorely needed? Renowned tech columnist Kara Swisher is not so sure. But there is one easy legislative win they could pursue early on. "I think it's very important to have privacy legislation, which we currently do not have: a 'national privacy bill.' Every other country does." Swisher's wide-ranging conversation with Ian Bremmer was part of the latest episode of GZERO World.

Ian Bremmer shares his perspective on global politics on this week's World In (More Than) 60 Seconds:

What did you think of Xi Jinping's speech at the virtual World Economic Forum?

Well, his last speech at the real World Economic Forum in Davos, I remember being there four years ago, and given that Trump had just been elected, Xi Jinping gives this big, "We want to stand up and be leaders while the Americans are doing America first." And generally speaking, was probably the most important speech of the week. People liked it. This is a pretty different environment, not so much because Trump has gone, but rather because support and belief in Xi Jinping is pretty low. I will say one thing that was generally well responded to was the call not to enter into a new Cold War. Anybody in the business community generally supports that. There's so much integration and interdependence between the US and the Chinese economies that when Xi Jinping says, "We need to find ways to continue to work together," I mean, this is the pro-globalization audience he's speaking to. They generally agree. But otherwise, the message fell pretty flat. So, the idea that China is going to be globally useful on issues of leadership, especially when it comes to anything that might threaten Beijing's sovereignty, they check global norms at the door. And a few examples of that, when Xi called for support for the rules-based international order, that's in obvious contrast with China's violation of the one country, two systems framework in Hong Kong. And they said, "Well, that's a domestic issue." Well, actually that's not what your agreement was with the British handover. And just because you're more powerful doesn't mean that norm doesn't matter anymore.

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Over the weekend, some 40,000 people in Moscow and thousands more across Russia braved subzero temperatures to turn out in the streets in support of imprisoned Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny. More than 3,000 protesters were arrested, and Navalny called on his followers to prepare for more action in the coming weeks.

But just who is Alexei Navalny, and how significant is the threat that he may pose to Vladimir Putin's stranglehold on power in Russia?

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The GZERO World Podcast with Ian Bremmer. Listen now.

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