December 18, 2019

BRITTLE: Xi Jinping’s annus horribilis.

Xi can blame only himself — or, more specifically, his excessive centralisation of power—for the challenges of the last year. Trade disputes with the US, concerns about Chinese interference in Hong Kong and ethnic tensions in Xinjiang all preceded his rise to power in late 2012. But China’s collective leadership, however corrupt and indecisive, managed to limit the escalation of these crises, thanks largely to their aversion to risk. For example, when more than half a million people in Hong Kong protested against a proposed national security law in 2003, the Chinese government immediately agreed to its withdrawal.

As Xi has concentrated political power in his own hands, however, decision-making has been transformed. Those hoping to influence policy must gain access to Xi himself, and they have every incentive to cherry-pick information to support his preferences. Likewise, Xi’s colleagues on the Politburo Standing Committee, fearful of appearing disloyal, are loath to share information that may contradict his view. They know that proposing an alternate approach could be seen as a direct challenge to Xi’s authority.

Xi’s intolerance of dissent and vulnerability to bad information have made his government much more prone to policy blunders. Making matters worse, because a strongman must maintain an image of virtual infallibility, even demonstrably ineffective or counterproductive policies are unlikely to be reversed.

Lots of good stuff at the link. I’d just add that perhaps the biggest risk of one-man rule is that when things go wrong, there’s only one man to blame — and no peaceful outlet for it.

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