President Xi Jinping controls almost all of China’s enormous economic power, but some people within the country are losing faith in his leadership, according to historian Margaret MacMillan.
“There is now, I think, more criticism and more resistance to the government than anyone had expected,” she told veteran journalist Paul Wells in an interview for his podcast on Jan. 26. “Moreover, Xi Jinping’s position, I think, is more in question.”
She believes Xi’s strict COVID-19 rules fuelled discontent in China, which could impact Xi’s position. China’s “zero COVID” policy meant most of its population of 1.4 billion were subject to strict lockdowns, and in many cases unable to leave their homes.
China abruptly reversed the policy in December; the country then endured a surge in COVID-19 cases and subsequent deaths.
MacMillan, the former provost of Trinity College and professor at the University of Toronto and Oxford University, senses some instabilities in Chinese social response. She said that Xi has accumulated a vast amount of power, but now, he “gets blamed for everything.” She regards these instabilities as “cracks” in China.
“I think his position is still strong. But, there will be a great many people in China who will be looking for any sign of weakness; I mean, he has managed to alienate a great many people,” MacMillan said.
“His successive purges of the party, his attacks on big business, all of this has put him in a powerful position.”
During the wide-ranging interview, MacMillan and Wells also explored China’s international relationships, as well as the country’s renewed interest in the Arctic and Antarctic.
MacMillan said Xi has made many enemies on the international stage.
“He has managed to alienate most of China’s neighbours,” she said, also noting its negative relationship with India and South Korea. Japan is considering raising the defence budget in response to Chinese moves in the surrounding seas.
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China’s aspirations in in the Arctic and Antarctic could have implications for Canada, she added.
“I find it ominous that China now describes itself as an Arctic and Antarctic power,” said MacMillan.
“There will be things there that powers such as China want and we‘re going to have to think about how we manage that.”