SINOGRAPH President Xi calls the election tune
By Francesco Sisci
BEIJING - For President Xi Jinping’s China it was the summer of Hong Kong, and he won it with possibly enormous domestic consequences for the Party Plenum this autumn.
It started with a mistake: a Beijing's white paper on the territory ruling out direct suffrage for the 2017 elections of the local High Commissioner. This aroused the anti-Beijing protests of the "Occupy Central" movement, which for some time flustered the Communist Party.
Then China's National People’s Congress chairman, Zhang Dejiang, said future reforms could not be ruled out; then Beijing
organized its own anti-"Occupy Central" demonstrations; then eventually Beijing conceded direct suffrage with the provision that candidates for the top post had to be first vetted.
This was the last straw: the "Occupy Central" movement walked back and conceded it had been beaten.
Beijing pulled, pushed, and possibly mobilized paid demonstrators and thugs, but overall it kept within the framework of the law. Most importantly it proved great political dexterity. After it realized it made a mistake it withdrew and corrected it.
No government, or man, is immune to mistakes, but its greatest ability is correcting itself. Xi used his enhanced political capital to correct a mistake: this is further proof of his internal strength (see also Xi grows in confidence at China's helm, Asia Times Online, August 5, 2014).
By way of comparison, the 1989 Tiananmen crackdown was precipitated because the then paramount leader Deng Xiaoping felt he could not step back from his unsigned People's Daily editorial of April 27, which violently denounced the protesters. Xi's withdrawal and victory in Hong Kong this summer has precedents only in the actions and the clout of Mao over the party.
Yet not even Mao scored a victory in the free society of Hong Kong.
Xi conversely stepped back, adjusted and politically won in Hong Kong. The consequences of this victory are possibly of enormous consequences.
It proves that the Communist Party can operate and win in a political environment much freer and open than the one existing now in mainland China. This can give the Party further confidence for reforms at home and in Hong Kong.
More importantly, it proves that Xi can win not only at home, where he is scoring big results with his anti-corruption campaign, but he can win even where it is far more difficult, as in Hong Kong. This is bound to reinforce his hand in Beijing, giving him freer rein at home and abroad.
Francesco Sisci is a Senior Researcher associated with the Center for European Studies at the People's University in Beijing. The opinions expressed are his own and do not represent in any way those of the Center.