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AFP
August 19, 2019

A bad year for Xi clouds China’s 70’th birthday celebrations

World

AFP
August 19, 2019

BEIJING: It was meant to be an unabashed celebration of the triumph of Communism in China, and of President Xi Jinping’s authority as the country’s undisputed leader for years to come.

But as the People’s Republic of China approaches its 70th anniversary on October 1st, Xi finds himself battling threats on multiple fronts. From a biting US trade war to relentless protests in Hong Kong challenging his rule and international condemnation over Beijing’s treatment of Uighur minorities in Xinjiang, Xi is having a very bad year, analysts say.

Furthermore, the crises have left him with limited room to act and simultaneously shore up support at home. "Xi Jinping has had the toughest year since he came to power", said Eleanor Olcott, China policy analyst at research firm TS Lombard.

"Not only is he facing unrest on China’s peripheries in Hong Kong and Xinjiang but the trade war is weighing on an already slowing domestic economy." Few expected things to turn out this way.

In Davos in 2017, just weeks after the inauguration of protectionist Donald Trump as US president, Xi was at pains to portray himself as a champion of globalisation, outlining a role for China as a world leader. Some even hoped he would open the door to further reform. But those expectations have now sunk.

"The Xi Jinping of Davos 2017, who emerged on the world stage as defender of the liberal global economic order, is unrecognisable today," said Olcott. By the time he secured his second term as the Communist Party’s general secretary in October 2017, Xi was at the centre of a cult of personality built by the state.

Last year, he enshrined "Xi Jinping Thought" in China’s constitution and, in a shock move, removed term limits on individuals -- overturning an orderly system of succession put in place to prevent the return of another all-powerful strongman like Mao Zedong.

Xi has used crackdowns on corruption and calls for a revitalised party to become the most powerful Chinese leader in decades, and the constitutional changes mean he can rule for as long as he wishes.

But stamping his personal brand on the government means Xi’s leadership is directly intertwined with the current headwinds. An unexpected and festering trade war with the United States has eroded confidence and hit the economy hard.

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