Who are Xi Jinping's foes? (I)
by Willy Wo-Lap Lam

For Deng Puffang, Deng Xiaoping’s eldest son, some cadres want “to go back to the ancien regime.” The two sons of Hu Yaobang, one of the Party’s liberal icons, “seem frustrated by President Xi’s anti-reform proclivities.”

Hong Kong (AsiaNews) – The leadership of the "supreme leader" is challenged less by the attacks of US President Donald J. Trump than by his domestic enemies. Among those who miss the policies of Deng Xiaoping – regional administrators, the military and intellectuals – dissatisfaction grows towards the choices adopted by Xi, this according to Prof Willy Wo-Lap Lam, who teaches at the Chinese University of Hong Kong and author of several books on China. Here is the first part of his analysis. Courtesy of the Jamestown Foundation.

Something unexpected took place during a recent four-day “southern tour” by CCP General Secretary Xi Jinping in Guangdong Province, the province where Deng Xiaoping, the chief architect of reform, launched his drive to “reform and open up” (改革开放) in 1978. As Party and government departments in Beijing prepare to celebrate the 40th anniversary of reform and opening up, Xi’s late October trip was widely thought to be an acknowledgement of his debts to Deng’s pro-market policies. Yet some observers were left stunned by Xi’s failure to utter the name “Deng Xiaoping” even once.

Xi noted that “experience has shown that the path of reform and the open door is correct, and that we must unswervingly uphold [the policy] and tirelessly persevere with it.” However, the paramount leader seemed to have drawn a distinction between “reform and the open-door policy in the new era” and Deng’s original “reform and open-door policy.” For example, Xi used the phrase ziligengsheng (自力更生) or “self-reliance” twice, saying that autarky was “the point of departure of the struggles of the Chinese people.” Ziligengsheng was one of Mao Zedong’s favorite aphorisms, and the antithesis of Deng’s policy of opening China’s door to foreign investment (People’s Daily, October 26; Xinhua, October 25).  

While Xi’s status as “core of the party,” the highest commander, and “pathfinder for the people” does not seem to have been seriously challenged by the multi-pronged attacks launched by US President Donald Trump, there is little doubt that his enemies in the party and government have multiplied. So who are Xi’s political foes? Foremost among them are cadres and even ordinary folks who are the beneficiaries of Deng’s visionary policy, represented by Xi’s fellow princelings who are the offspring of party elders closely tied to Deng Xiaoping’s reforms.

Take, for instance, the children of Deng Xiaoping, who have closely guarded their father’s legacy of reform. They fear that Deng’s position at the peak of the CCP pantheon, second only to Mao, could be jeopardized by Xi’s move to dismantle the liberal patriarch’s key policy planks. At a recent meeting of the China’s Disabled Persons’ Federation, Deng’s eldest son Deng Pufang gave strong hints that there were cadres who wanted to go back to the ancien regime. “Only if we insist upon reform and open door can we continue to survive and continue to develop,” he said. “The pace of the progress of history won’t stop.” Deng went on to admonish CCP members to “clench our teeth and never retrogress so that [the reform policy] will not be shaken in a hundred years” (Dwnews.com, October 23; Chinaelections.net, October 11).     

Similarly, Hu Deping and Hu Dehua, the two sons of late party general secretary Hu Yaobang—a liberal icon within the Party—seem frustrated by President Xi’s anti-reform proclivities. In the run-up to Xi’s ascent to power in late 2012, Hu Deping briefed Xi on the importance of intra-party reforms and policies that favored the market economy. When ignored Hu’s suggestions, the latter felt duty-bound to defend the interests of private enterprises. A former party secretary of the All-China Federation of Industry and Commerce, Hu warned against the tendency of gongsiheying (公私合营), or “co-management by state-owned enterprises [SOEs] and private firms.” Gongsiheying, which in most cases means SOEs taking over private companies, “has re-appeared under a new format so as to squeeze private enterprises,” he said. “If this were to become a trend, and nobody offers critical views, the end result will be terrible” (Radio Free Asia, September 28; Hong Kong Economic Journal, September 28). Taking the cue from Hu, the nation’s private entrepreneurs have expressed dissatisfaction with more powerful state-owned enterprises, which enjoy Xi’s patronage (Asia Times, October 9).