What’s Xi Jinping getting his knickers in a knot about?
Was it a diplomatic faux pas for President Biden to call him—at a campaign fundraiser—a “dictator”? Yes, of course. Was that description a “smear,” as Xi’s spokesman in Washington complained? Not at all.
Xi should be proud to be recognized as a dictator—indeed the most powerful dictator in the world today.
He is a Leninist, after all, and it was Vladimir Lenin’s great achievement—surely Comrade Xi sees it that way—to establish the first “dictatorship of the proletariat.”
Xi also is a Maoist, and when Mao Zedong founded the People’s Republic of China, he called it a “people’s democratic dictatorship.”
Don’t misunderstand the adjectives in that phrase. In the Marxist-Leninist-Stalinist-Maoist sense, a dictatorship is democratic because it empowers Communists to do whatever they consider necessary to serve the “people”—or, rather, the people who matter: the proletariat, aka the working class.
A priority task is to prevent the establishment of a “liberal democracy,” which would act in the interests of the bourgeoisie and other counterrevolutionary classes.
Also: Xi is allied with Ali Khamenei, whose title is Supreme Leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran, and who maintains that he is the “representative of the Prophet Muhammad and [Shi’ism’s] 12th Imam on Earth.” Those are some heavy-duty credentials!
Then there’s Xi’s pet bulldog, Kim Jong-un, the third generation of the North Korean dynastic dictatorship.
Xi’s most important ally, however, is Vladimir Putin who, over 23 years, has transitioned from Russian leader to Russian dictator. His rivals have ended up in prisons or graveyards.
Which leads me to briefly digress about Yevgeny Prigozhin, whose checkered career has included serving time for robbery, running a hot-dog stand and amassing a fortune as a caterer to the Kremlin.
More recently he’s been the generalissimo of the Wagner Group, a private military company. Prigozhin was loyal to Putin until last Saturday, when he launched a mutiny—though he said his complaint was only with Russia’s military establishment.
Without firing a shot, Wagner troops took Rostov-on-Don, command center of the Russian forces waging war on Ukraine. Wagner troops then began heading north toward Moscow.
Late in the day, however, Prigozhin announced that he’d accepted a truce brokered by Belarusian President Aleksandr Lukashenko.
A few hours later, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said that Russian authorities had decided not to prosecute Prigozhin for his rebellion but to allow him safe passage to Belarus (where he might want to consider adopting a Rottweiler, renting an apartment on the ground floor and avoiding almond-scented tea).
On Monday, however, the Russian news-and-propaganda agency TASS cited an authoritative source saying that a criminal case against Prigozhin “is continuing.”
Later that same day, Putin said Wagner fighters can either join the Russian army, go back home, or go to Belarus. What impact all this may have on Putin’s war against Ukraine is unclear.
You can be sure that Xi has been paying close attention to how his brother dictator copes with this crisis.
One obvious lesson: A shrewd dictator does not allow anyone—not even those he regards as his faithful servants—to acquire significant power.
Xi, over the more than 20 years he’s ruled, has only become more dictatorial. He has genocidally imposed his dictatorship on the peoples of Tibet and East Turkestan, the latter better known by its Mandarin name, Xinjiang, which means “New Frontier,” indicating that it’s an imperial possession.
He’s subjugated the people of Hong Kong in flagrant violation of the Sino-British Joint Declaration, that was meant to guarantee the former British colony some freedoms and rights under the principle of “one country, two systems” after it transferred to Chinese Communist Party control in 1997.
Longer-term and more ambitiously, Xi is promoting what he calls a global “community of common destiny.” He envisions it replacing the post-World War II, American-led liberal international order.
Under that system, all members of the United Nations are to abide by “international laws”—none more fundamental than the prohibition against erasing the borders of sovereign nation-states by force of arms.
But Putin suffered no serious consequences when he took territories from Georgia in 2008 and from Ukraine in 2014. After seeing the United States capitulate to the Taliban in 2021, it was logical for him to attempt to further expand the shrunken Russian empire. He figured Ukrainians wouldn’t put up much resistance and expected only finger-wagging from the West.
Similarly, Xi is threatening to invade Taiwan if the Taiwanese people continue refusing to submit to his dictatorship.
All this notwithstanding, Biden said last week that he expects to meet with Xi “sometime in the future, the near term,” and that he’s hoping for a “thaw” in relations.
My colleague, Emily de La Bruyere, recently explained why, in the absence of serious concessions from Xi, that would be a bad idea: “It would mean that the United States, having concluded that confrontation is not worth it, would decide to back down from the defense of its interests.” She added that “a thaw in name would be appeasement in practice.”
That’s yet another reason why Biden, when he next gets together with Xi, shouldn’t apologize for calling him a dictator. He can discuss ways to reduce tensions and risks, such as restoring military-to-military communications, which Xi shut down after the downing of his spy balloon earlier this year.
But President Biden should not for a moment forget that the grand ambition of China’s dictator is to dictate to America and, indeed, the entire planet.