October 21, 2022 | Foreign Policy

Xi’s Third Term Is a Gift in Disguise

With China’s leader, what you see is what you get. That’s good news for Western policymakers.
October 21, 2022 | Foreign Policy

Xi’s Third Term Is a Gift in Disguise

With China’s leader, what you see is what you get. That’s good news for Western policymakers.

Excerpt

To exactly no one’s surprise, Xi Jinping will secure a third term atop the Chinese Communist Party at this week’s 20th Party Congress. Xi’s political triumph—which has been months, if not years, in the making—overturns decades of party precedent that used to limit Chinese leaders to two consecutive five-year terms. But in breaking the rules, Xi has done the United States and its allies a favor by taking the guesswork out of China’s path forward.

The formal extension of Xi’s tenure locks in China’s current policy orientation—one that is unabashedly hostile to political pluralism and free market forces. Indeed, for the last few years, Xi has outlined, often in excruciating detail, his desire not only to deepen the party-state’s influence over China’s economy and 1.4 billion citizens but also to extend that influence far beyond China’s borders. Rarely has a geopolitical rival so unambiguously telegraphed his plans. Yet the Western world remains woefully unprepared for the coming “decisive decade” in its rivalry with China, as U.S. President Joe Biden described it last week.

Policymakers may not realize it yet, but the relative certainty that comes with Xi staying in power is actually a gift in disguise. With his takeover complete, what you see with Xi is what you get, including his proclivity to recycle his own talking points and rehash his familiar vision of China’s future. Indeed, today’s great-power irony is that while Xi appears to have no new ideas to cope with a changing geopolitical landscape and clings to policy prescriptions formulated during the pre-pandemic era, the West appears awash in a whole range of competing ideas to effectively counter China.

Craig Singleton is a senior China fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and a former U.S. diplomat. Twitter: @CraigMSingleton. FDD is a Washington, DC-based, nonpartisan research institute focused on national security and foreign policy.

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China