This week on Sinica, Kaiser and Jeremy chat with Jude Blanchette, the Senior Advisor and China Practice Lead at Crumpton Group’s China Practice. We pick his brain on the rumors swirling around Beijing this summer, about public criticisms of Xi’s leadership, about the lack of any real succession plan in the eventuality that Xi is somehow incapacitated or steps down, and an emerging political science literature on authoritarianism.
“I don’t know of any credible argument that Xi Jinping is worried about PLA tanks rolling down the streets to unseat him from Zhongnanhai,” Jude says (he begins his answer at the 12:27 mark). “If you unpack what are the mechanisms that a leader needs to maintain and control a position of authority, Xi Jinping has not given up control of any of those. An essay by a rogue intellectual or rumors of elder pushback at Beidaihe are not enough to turn the loyalty of the security services or the military, which are ultimately what keep you in power.”
Just after the 16-minute mark, Jude, Kaiser, and Jeremy talk about Xu Zhangrun’s very long, dense essay published in July — translated here, with an introduction by Geremie Barmé — in which he criticizes Xi’s policies and pleas for a course change.
Also listen for:
24:40: More tea-leaf reading: Jude discusses the debate between technocrats and ideologues within the Chinese government, followed by a question by Kaiser at the 27:16 mark about what ideology, specifically (“it’s certainly not orthodox Marxism, it’s not Maoism, there’s no collectivist mentality around it”), observers are talking about when they say technocratic objectivity is being replaced.
37:15: Scenarios for succession in the event that Xi Jinping is incapacitated. “He’s not young…he’s obviously got a little bit of a paunch,” Kaiser notes. (Also, did you know Xi is a smoker?)
43:43: Jeremy asks about Jude’s comparison of Xi to Putin and Stalin, and how Xi has made too many enemies to voluntarily give up power. “One of the things about getting to the throne is you then have to spend the rest of your time defending that position from real and imagined enemies,” Jude says.
Jude has discussed Chinese politics on Sinica on three other occasions in the past two years. Check out these past episodes:
Listen now to: Xi Jinping’s long, hot summer