Sunday, September 1, 2019

Fall 2019 Issue 61

Bureaucratic strategies of coping with strongman rule: How local officials survive in President Xi Jinping’s new order

Minxin Pei

Sunday, September 1, 2019

Chinese leader Xi Jinping has been attempting to transform the Chinese Communist Party into an ideologically committed, organizationally disciplined, and politically loyal regime.  His efforts include enforcing strict discipline and curtailing the perks of officials.  This attempt appears to be unpopular among the party’s rank and file and has encountered various forms of resistance.  Resourceful local officials have attempted to protect their interests and resist the leadership’s efforts to strip them of the perks and benefits that until now they have taken for granted.  Their passive resistance appears to be a serious obstacle to the realization of Xi’s ambitious vision.  Ironically, many of Xi’s own policies, such as emphasizing ideological indoctrination and suppressing civil society, have made it more difficult to combat the subterfuge by local officials.  The party’s top-down approach is unlikely to succeed in converting ideologically cynical CCP officials into true believers, while local officials have no feasible means of forcing the top leadership to change course.  This political stalemate is likely to continue.

The Sinicization of Chinese Religions under Xi Jinping

Richard Madsen

Sunday, September 1, 2019

The recent resurgence of many forms of religious belief and practice in China has been met by new forms of repression and control. Basic party and state policy were established in a pair of documents promulgated in the early 1980s.  The ideological foundation for the policies was Marxist secularization theory, in which religion will inevitably disappear, but its demise will take a long time and, in the meanwhile, heavy-handed attempts at repression may be counterproductive. The policies include government supervision and management of religious practices through state institutions controlled by the United Front Work Department. New regulations promulgated in 2018 maintain most of the policy instruments of the 1980s, but they have been streamlined to achieve greater efficiency and more effective supervision.  The ideological framework is now mainly based on “Sinicization” rather than Marxism.  Since Sinicization generally requires adaptation to an idealized version of Han Chinese culture, outsiders to this culture, such as Christians, Tibetan Buddhists, and Muslims, especially Uighurs, are subject to even harsher repression than they were under the former Marxist ideology. Han Chinese Daoism and Mahayana Buddhism are faring somewhat better, although they too are still subject to restrictions by a watchful state.

Recalibration and Adaptation: China’s Relations with her Key Neighbors during the Trump Era

Yun Sun

Sunday, September 1, 2019

After becoming the leader of China in late 2012 Xi Jinping rapidly launched his signature foreign-policy campaign—the Belt and Road Initiative—to project China’s economic and geopolitical influence. Whether the BRI has improved China’s external environment, especially in its immediate periphery, will be subject to debate for years to come. However, the U.S. threat perception of China as a result of the BRI has unequivocally heightened, leading to the Trump administration’s Indo-Pacific strategy since 2017. In an era defined by U.S.-China great power strategic competition, a central theme of Xi’s foreign policy has been a recalibration and realignment of relations with Asian countries in order to effectively counter the U.S. role in Asia. As a result, China has adapted its policy to pursue a closer alignment with a like-minded Russia, to improve relations with India to prevent a potential U.S.-India alliance in Asia, to steer the souring relations with Japan toward cooperation, and to consolidate Southeast Asia as part of China’s sphere of influence.  

Twists in the Belt and Road

Ryan Manuel

Sunday, September 1,  2019

China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) remains a topic of great interest. But there is little knowledge about China’s internal voices. Dissent remains rare, yet there has been considerable pushback on BRI policy and decision making. This is because there is an array of structural problems with the BRI’s design. BRI is entirely an economic program, run by various parts of the economic bureaucracy. But it does not give bureaucrats sufficient mandate to pursue their interests within China’s internal politics. So the BRI is attractive for central SOEs and dealmakers but unattractive to local leaders who are held accountable for whatever goes wrong in their respective areas. Although overt criticism is rare, failure to carry out orders is common. China’s leaders have responded to critiques of the BRI, radically changing its official focus and policy. It has moved from a geoeconomic export policy to part of China’s toolkit in the current US trade war. But there is no indication that the structural problems will be addressed, thus limiting the BRI’s ability to achieve its goals, and as such, pushback will continue.

CLM Insights Interview with M. Taylor Fravel on his latest book:


Active Defense: China's Military Strategy since 1949

(Princeton University Press, 2019)