XI'S IN THE SHITShttps://www.ft.com/content/934bbcf1-304f-49bb-a956-8a6cdd3139fd
Triumphalism returns to haunt Xi Jinping China’s leader risks being blamed for the failure of a zero Covid policy that once seemed successful GIDEON RACHMANAdd to myFT Xi Jinping, the Chinese leader faces the nightmarish prospect that the months running up to the party congress will be marred by an economic crunch and social tensions caused by repeated lockdowns © James Ferguson Share on twitter (opens new window) Share on facebook (opens new window) Share on linkedin (opens new window) Share on whatsapp (opens new window) Share Save Gideon Rachman 2 HOURS AGO 42 The government of China does not have the legitimacy that flows from winning an election. But officials in China often claim that the Communist party benefits from something even better: “performance legitimacy”. The idea that the Chinese government easily outperforms the dysfunctional west has been pushed hard during the Covid-19 crisis. At a ceremony in 2020, President Xi Jinping proclaimed that “the pandemic once again proves the superiority of the socialist system with Chinese characteristics”. On the first anniversary of the outbreak of the virus in Wuhan, the city hosted an exhibition on China’s successful battle against the disease, featuring, as the BBC reported, “models of medical workers in hazmat suits . . . and everywhere you look, giant portraits of Xi Jinping.”
But Xi’s triumphalism is coming back to haunt him. The “zero Covid” policy is breaking down. Shanghai, a city of 26mn people, has been locked down for five weeks in a desperate effort to suppress the virus — with alarming stories of people going hungry or stir crazy, as they struggle with enforced confinement. The authorities now claim that the Shanghai lockdown is being gradually eased. But there are mounting fears that Beijing may be the next megacity to be locked down. Many less prominent urban areas are already subject to severe restrictions. All told, some 345mn people are currently thought to be living under full or partial lockdowns, across 46 different cities. The underlying problem is that the Omicron version of Covid-19 is highly transmissible. So any effort to stuff the Covid genie back into the bottle may be doomed.
The social, psychological and economic effects of Shanghai-style lockdowns are dire. But it is the political effects that may worry Xi most. The Chinese leader is approaching a critical juncture in his reign. This year he will complete two terms as general secretary of the Chinese Communist party — the point at which his two predecessors stepped down. But Xi intends to stay on. That will have to be agreed at the crucial 20th congress of the Communist party — which will probably take place in November. A third term as party leader would entrench Xi’s personal grip on the country. In recent years, Xi Jinping thought has been written into the Communist party’s constitution, and term limits on the Chinese presidency have been abolished. To ensure that the further consolidation of Xi’s personal power goes ahead as planned, the Xi cult must remain unblemished. But now the Chinese leader faces the nightmarish prospect that the months running up to the party congress will be marred by an economic crunch and social tensions caused by repeated lockdowns.