China’s president, Xi Jinping, profoundly altered China’s political system when he became president in 2012. His authority has been contested due to his oppressive policies toward Xinjiang and Hong Kong people. He is also officially known to have suppressed opponents under cover of “anti-corruption” programs, declared himself “president-for-life,” and in 2019, presided over the COVID-19 pandemic- where he again proved his totalitarian powers to control people’s personal lives.
No leader of the Chinese Communist Party has possessed as much power except for Mao Zedong, a Chinese revolutionary and former president who led the Chinese Communist Party from its establishment in 1949 till his death in 1976. With China having a history of governments that can be overthrown by force, a strong leader like Xi Jinping would be well aware of conspiracies and the threats that loom around him.
The 95-year-old former president of China, Jiang Zemin, who still significantly influences the country’s politics several years after leaving office, has resented Mr. Xi’s authority. After witnessing Xi emerge into power and shatter practically every political rule that previous Chinese leaders had built in the aftermath of Mao’s crippling cult of personality, Jiang Zemin sees Xi as antithetical to his vision of the Chinese communist powerhouse that he designed before leaving his president post. The latest unpopular “zero COVID-19” methods that Beijing Government placed upon Shanghai have given all the justification needed to challenge the autocratic rule of President Xi Jinping.
The zero COVID-19 policy was to close down the whole city of Shanghai in a bid to stop the spread of the Coronavirus. This policy has not been taken well by residents of Shanghai and has led to various protests by those who live in the city. According to the official story told by Beijing, the mistakes of this policy were caused by the careless capitalists of Shanghai and not President Xi himself. To fix these mistakes and to give some protection from a bad political image, President Xi send Sun Chunlan, the second vice Premier of the People’s Republic of China, to Shanghai.
Sadly, in the background, Shanghai seems to become the battleground of the Chinese communist party’s internal power struggles. The lockdown imposed had adverse effects like shortage of food supply, economic disruptions, and poor access to medical care. Reports from residents sent on social media show the adverse effects of the lockdown as people with chronic or non-COVID-19-related illnesses have limited access to medical care. This overly debated policy was naturally perceived as Xi’s punishment to the city. However, Shanghai has never actually been under Beijing’s rule. After his retirement, the former president, Jiang Zeming, and his powerhouse became the real owners of Shanghai.
Even though Mr. Xi has consistently followed the policy since the pandemic began, it is also true that Mr. Xi has forcefully suppressed parts of the nation that he perceives as possible threats to his authority. Hong Kong and Xinjiang Province serve as examples of this phenomenon. It becomes less probable that Mr. Xi will continue in power if the crisis lasts longer as he will appear incompetent in the eyes of the people of China. His opposition could quickly mobilize themselves for his downfall when it became evident that the zero COVID policy was ineffective. The conflict between President Xi Jinping and former president Jiang Zemin may tear the communist party apart.
The Coronavirus pandemic has challenged global politics and the economy. The nations need to be prepared for what will likely be the power struggle, which heightened through the pandemic, within the Chinese Communist Party. China is not as far from the rest of the world as it was twenty years ago.