Xi expands ‘negative legacy’ left by former leader

While laying the groundwork for China’s emergence as an economic superpower, Jiang Zemin left behind a “negative legacy,” including the country’s policy of military expansion and conflict with Japan.

However, he could not have imagined that the current administration of Chinese President Xi Jinping would expand that legacy and lead China to become a threat to the international community.

Former Chinese President Jiang died at the age of 96. He led the country as general secretary of the Chinese Communist Party from 1989 to 2002.

Among the achievements he has been credited with are his efforts to stabilize Beijing-Washington relations and seek international cooperation, which laid the groundwork for the country’s development.

In 2001, China was successful in its bid to host the 2008 Olympic and Paralympic Games in Beijing, and also joined the World Trade Organization. During Jiang’s 13 years as general secretary, China maintained high average annual growth of more than 9%, paving the way for the country to become the world’s second-largest economy.

Jiang changed the Communist Party from a “class-based political party” into a “people’s political party” by allowing private entrepreneurs to join the party, which had previously been dominated by laborers and farmers. While entrepreneurs found it easier to conduct their activities, the change also served as an opportunity for corruption to spread within the party.

Jiang bears immense responsibility for causing the deterioration of the Japan-China relationship.

He promoted patriotic education that was anti-Japanese and emphasized the Communist Party’s role in the “war of resistance against Japan.” Jiang is believed to have used this anti-Japanese sentiment as a tool to restore the party’s prestige at a time when its authority was declining after a brutal crackdown on protesters in the Tiananmen Square incident, which occurred shortly before he took office.

It is regrettable that patriotic education has hampered the development of relations between Japan and China.

Jiang ordered massive Chinese military exercises near Taiwan’s waters in the run-up to Taiwan’s presidential election in 1996. This prompted the world to turn its attention to China’s military threat. In domestic affairs, Jiang continued to exert influence behind the scenes, staying at the top of the military even after stepping down as general secretary of the party.

However, the power and influence currently wielded by Xi greatly exceed that of Jiang, who allowed Xi to become his eventual successor. When Xi assumed his unprecedented third term in office, Jiang reportedly cautioned him that the party did not belong to a single individual.

Xi has declared the possibility of unifying Taiwan by force, and military exercises around the island have become the norm. Chinese ships have repeatedly made intrusions into Japanese waters around the Senkaku Islands.

Under Xi, China has sought to disrupt the international order based on the rule of law and attempted to change the status quo by force, making Beijing a threat to the entire international community. A dictatorship in which power is concentrated in the hands of a person no one can oppose or criticize has the potential for unchecked rampage.

Xi’s confidence in China’s military and economic power might have increased, but he must not forget that the basis for the current strength of the country was the policy of international cooperation adopted by Jiang.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Dec. 2, 2022)