In the three years since he came to power, the only area where Xi Jinping has shown real creativity has been in coming up with new ways of legitimizing his rule.
Xi Jinping is often described as China’s most powerful leader in decades, perhaps even since Mao.
But as Xi completes his third year in office this month this judgment seems increasingly mistaken – with China trapped by the same taboos that limited Xi’s predecessors.
At heart this means a one-party state unwilling to retreat from the commanding heights of the country’s economic – political and social life.
The only area where the government has shown real creativity has been in coming up with new ways of legitimizing its rule—diversions from the real issues facing the country.
This is all the more striking when we consider that Xi is now probably at the peak of his power.
He took office as general secretary of the Communist Party and head of the central military commission on November 15, 2012; by now it is no longer useful to think of Xi as a new leader who needs time to implement his ideas.
Instead, we have to recognize that he is already reached his point of maximum influence.
By the second half of next year factions will be jockeying for the 19th Communist Party Congress in 2017 – which is when Xi’s successor will be picked—the two will serve together for the following five years – just as Xi served under Hu Jintao from 2007 to 2012.
(An aside: the iron logic of these dates calls into question the oft-stated claim that China’s leaders are operating on some sort of visionary long-term horizon; instead they have a political shelf life about equal to most Western leaders.)
But rather than significant innovation Xi’s overriding goal seems to be preserving the ossified system he inherited when he came to power in 2012.
Fundamentally this means state control over most of the economy and society.