The unexpected changes in the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) Politburo are still causing a stir among experts analyzing developments in China, especially those related to the threatened annexation of Taiwan.
Xi Jinping mentioned in the opening speech of the 20th National Congress of the Communist Party of the CCP that ‘reunification’ with Taiwan “must be realized and can certainly be realized.”
However, there is no history that Taiwan belonged to China.
Among the changes, one of the most threatening is the appointment of the general, He Weidong, current commander of the Eastern War Zone, and considered a “powerful person,” according to the media outlet Banned book, which cites a November 4 tweet.
While Xi Jinping broke several of the traditional patterns established in the CCP for promotions of Politburo Standing Committee officials, he surpassed all marks in his meteoric rise.
Here, netizen @GaoFalin, lists the exceptions granted to He Weidong and questions, “Where did his’ right to be elected’ come from?”[He] “was not a deputy to the 20th National Congress, nor a member of the presidium of the 20th National Congress, nor does he have a resume as a member of the Central Committee, nor is he an alternate member of the 19th National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party.”
“Neither [is he] a member of the Political Bureau, nor Vice Chairman of the Military Commission,” parts of @GaoFalin’s tweet read. This means that he leapfrogged over representatives of the Party Congress, the Central Committee, and alternate members of the Central Committee.
As part of his background, he led the military command that directed the recent harassment campaign in Taiwan and was head of the Western War Zone Command’s ground forces. He was also involved in two border crises with India; the 2017 Doklam crisis and the 2020 Line of Actual Control crisis.
On the other hand, he was among the senior military commanders who, together with Xi Jinping, reviewed the Joint Operations Command Center of the Central Military Commission on November 8.
On this occasion, Xi, to whom the title “Commander General of the Military Commission” is now added, emphasized his militaristic stance when addressing the staff, demanding that the military fight:
“Absolutely loyal, fight fervently, command efficiently and dare to fight to win,” and “effectively fulfill the mission of the new era,” Xi expounded, according to Radio France International (RFI).
For Massachusetts Institute of Technology political science professor M. Taylor Fravel, the change in the Politburo: “underscores the importance of professional military expertise at the highest levels of PLA leadership and the importance of Taiwan for the PLA as it continues to modernize.”
Predictions about the new Politburo
The 24-member CCP Politburo brings together the party’s top leaders. Given that Xi surrounded himself with his most loyal followers, prioritizing security to the detriment of other essential aspects for the country, it does not bode well for the future.
Moreover, according to several experts, this ‘militarized’ Politburo would not even be able to offer guarantees of success in the war field.
One of the reasons would be that ‘loyalty’ overlaps with performance, popularity, and experience. These characteristics previously pointed to the optimal officials for access to the Politburo.
For political analyst Dan Macklin, the criteria used by Xi to choose the new Politburo members implies a regression in the system of government imposed by the Chinese regime.
Macklin predicted in The Diplomat: “This institutional regression would also have worrying implications for policy direction.”
He added: “Surrounded by a coalition of weak and loyal officials, Chairman Xi would face minimal resistance to persisting with “zero COVID” or escalating corporate crackdowns.”
Macklin also believes that Xi: “would become trapped in an authoritarian feedback loop, increasingly unaware of the damage wrought by his own policies.”
Consequently, this procedure would damage the party and promote the creation of factions fighting to keep power.
In turn, National War College professor Zachary Abuza considers such appointments unbalanced, according to an article of his published in RFA, in which he described their shortcomings:
“What may be good for Xi politically is not good for China economically.”
He added: “Xi stacked the Politburo and its Standing Committee with ideologues and loyalists; there are no pro-economic reform advocates left and corporate China is not represented.”
Abuza further believes, “But most importantly, China looks set to continue to undermine the rules-based international order that has been the foundation for Southeast Asia’s spectacular economic growth.”
Attempts against Taiwan
For several experts on the subject, the CCP may be more inclined than ever to invade Taiwan illegally, infringing on the freedom of its 23 million inhabitants.
However, author and China affairs commentator Dexter Roberts argues that it is not wise to prioritize political objectives over economic ones, according to his October 30 publication, in which he writes:
“Political goals placed above economics equals slower growth and could spur a military move on Taiwan. And Xi’s team is unprepared for economic challenges ahead.”
Roberts further illustrates his argument with several of the economic failures suffered by the CCP following Xi’s new appointments at the party’s 20th National Congress.
Likewise, in the view of former U.S. intelligence officer specializing in China’s military, Lonnie Henley, attempting to annex Taiwan could mean a Pyrrhic victory for the Chinese regime, whereby he commented:
“Any conflict over Taiwan would represent an existential threat to the CCP regime, so it’s the last thing a beleaguered Xi would look to as a distraction from domestic troubles … so no, I don’t buy the ‘wag the dog’ theory,” said Lonnie Henley, a former U.S. intelligence officer who focuses on China’s military.”
Moreover, not only is there no record of Taiwan ever having been ruled by the CCP, but with its official name of the Republic of China, it was one of the founding countries of the UN.
“The authorities in Beijing have never exercised sovereignty over Taiwan or other islands administered by the ROC,” according to the historical overview on the island’s government website.
But as the CCP gained international prominence, it eclipsed Taiwan’s political deployment and self-proclaimed its contentious membership.
Nevertheless, in a David and Goliath-style endgame, there may be a possibility that Taiwan’s democratic government may once be the one to lead China’s destiny, given the high economic and social standards it has achieved.
The contrast between the two systems of government is overwhelming. In this regard, internet user @dudiaohan1 synthesizes it in one of his tweets, thus, quoting Taiwanese essayist and cultural critic Lung Ying-tai.
“Lung Ying-tai: Democracy has changed Taiwan. You don’t have to be afraid all the time of your life, you don’t have to be loyal to any party, you don’t have to please anyone, and you can live a life of integrity.”
He adds, “If you say the democratic government is inefficient, yes, it’s because the government is slow in having to stop and listen to the people. So do you want a government that takes the time to listen to you, or a government that can run over you quickly without saying hello?”
Despite the image of strength that the CCP is trying to create, all of its national indicators are down, in addition to the deep discontent of its people. Given these facts, the range of possibilities is extensive and does not favor the continuity of the Chinese regime.