Power Grab

It is time to revisit China. Of late, Xi Jinping, the country’s ruler, seems to be taking fashion advice from his elusive counterpart just across the border in North Korea, replacing his stylish suit and tie for the drab attire that marked the Maoist Era. With a somewhat disconcerting frequency, President Jinping seems to dress for the occasion – one that calls for strict state control of civil society and the ruthless repression of dissent.

China clearly wishes to exert full control over the corona narrative in order to seize the moment – and the global leadership position vacated by the United States. However, President Jinping’s power grab is meeting stiff resistance. The world, it would seem, is not quite ready yet for the Chinese Century. The country’s government has only its own incompetence to blame for being exposed as the tinpot-quality dictatorship it actually is.

What President Jinping has failed to realise is that his country’s phenomenal ascendency was built, almost exclusively, on privileged access to the juicy markets of North America and Europe. Those markets can be closed as well. In fact, that is likely to slowly happen in the wake of the pandemic.

Beijing’s increasingly arrogant posturing on the world stage does it no favours: calling Australia ‘gum stuck to the bottom of China’s shoe’ is no way make friends. The Australian government had provoked Chinese ire by suggesting an independent scientific inquiry be set up to determine the origins of the virus.

The Propaganda Department of the Chinese Communist Party next turned its anger to The Netherlands which had dared change the name of its liaison office in Taiwan without consulting with Beijing. The Dutch were promptly told that they could forget about receiving any additional medical aid from China which considers Taiwan a rebel province.

Next up Poland where President Andrzej Duda was pestered by Chinese diplomats for days on end to call up Mr Jinping and thank him profusely for a shipment of subpar facemasks that had been supplied. The Polish president finally placed the call which was then used by Chinese state media to illustrate the deep gratitude felt around the world for the generosity displayed by its visionary leader.

Almost all Chinese ambassadors to EU member states have now run into trouble with their hosts. A backlash is building up quickly. European governments are particularly sensitive to the early prowling by state-backed Chinese companies of their pandemic-stricken economies. A number of businesses in Germany, Denmark, and The Netherlands have reported takeover attempts by Chinese companies, proxies for the state, eager to buy their way into advanced technology.

China will not become the world’s pre-eminent superpower as envisioned by its supremo. The country remains a dictatorship that locks up millions and is singularly unable to set an example for anyone not inclined to monopolise political power. China must bide its time, improve its morals, and stop behaving like a teenager when challenged. President Jinping may also want to stick to a more conventional dress code.