In China, Xi Jinping's Latest Purge Reflects Climate of Fear

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fairly difficult
So-called anti-corruption crackdowns in the Chinese Communist Party follow a familiar pattern.
Xi's Latest Purge Reflects Climate of Fear

Welcome to Foreign Policy's China Brief. The highlights this week: Chinese President Xi Jinping's latest purge targets the police and judicial sectors, Beijing's Workers' Stadium is demolished, and U.S. President Donald Trump hints at restrictions against Alibaba.

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Xi Jinping Still Rules by Fear

Chinese President Xi Jinping's latest round of purges targets the police and judicial sectors, with dozens of officials already arrested, including at least one major police chief. Xi has made these kinds of sweeping crackdowns a key feature of his rule, beginning with the elimination of his chief political rivals after he took power and continuing with key institutions, such as state-owned enterprises and the military.

Xi's defenders say the purges are part of anti-corruption work, and it's likely that some of the cases involve unusually corrupt officials. But anti-corruption crackdowns carried out under the auspices of the Chinese Communist Party auspices tend to follow a familiar pattern. The price of luxuries—a useful proxy for corruption, since bribes often involve exchanges of luxury goods—fell during Xi's first rounds of purges and then hit record highs before the coronavirus pandemic.

Eight years in, rule by fear still seems to be Xi's watchword both inside and outside the party.

Reformist expelled. Prominent reformist CCP intellectual Cai Xia, meanwhile, was formally expelled from the party and stripped of her retirement benefits this week. Cai, who now lives in the United States, is a fierce critic of Xi's leadership—views she says are shared by many inside the party itself. Cai told the Guardian that China under Xi is trapped in a cycle of sycophancy and fear.

"But those below are too afraid to tell him and wrong decisions continue to be made until the situation is out of control," she said. "In this vicious cycle, there is no way to stop the country from sliding towards disaster."

No exit. Even if resentment toward Xi's leadership is growing, nobody in the party has the ability to act. Short of a full-blown coup or a health crisis for Xi, the entire system is locked in to ideological paranoia, yes-man thinking, and an increasing personality cult. Xi himself may be aware of these problems—but like dictators before him, he's learning that it's hard to order people who are terrified of you to speak their minds.

What We're Following

Workers' Stadium demolished. One of Beijing's key sites, the Workers' Stadium, was ripped down in just four days this week, ahead of a planned reconstruction for the 2022 Winter Olympics. Beijing's systematic demolitions over the last few years have painfully reshaped the city. But while the 66,000-seat Workers' Stadium carries strong memories for anyone who attended an event there, it's not exactly an architectural loss.

Like many other demolitions, it comes with a commercial cost: The stadium had a penumbra of clubs and stores surrounding it that are now closed. The peculiar juxtaposition of night life and a communist monument was the result of the People's Liberation Army's direct ownership of the stadium and the land around it, which meant that club owners only had to bribe a single PLA representative.

Wetting the Buddha's toes. The record-setting rains and flooding in southern China continues, with the waters now reaching the toes of a famous statue of the Buddha in Leshan that normally sits well above the confluence of the Min and Dadu rivers, for the first time since 1949. The Three Gorges Dam is facing the largest inflow since it was completed in 2006, although claims that the dam is in imminent danger of collapse are exaggerated.

The Chinese government is waging a complicated…
James Palmer
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