It’s often said that power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely – but does it also induce leaders to act in foolhardy, headstrong and ultimately self-destructive ways? History, especially Chinese history, is full of examples of omnipotent rulers whose unchecked behaviour led to disaster. Xi Jinping, China’s comrade-emperor, is a modern-day case in point. Xi seems to think he can do no wrong. As a result, not much is going right.
Xi’s authoritarian, expansionist policies, pursued with increasing vehemence since he became communist party chief and president in 2012-13, have enveloped China in a ring of fire. Its borderlands are ablaze with conflict and confrontation from Inner Mongolia, Xinjiang, Tibet and the Himalayas in the north and west to Hong Kong, the South China Sea and Taiwan to the east. More than at any time since Mao’s 1949 revolution, China is also at odds with the wider world.