Little will change in China in the coming years, as has already been made clear by the 20th Congress of the Communist Party – which will almost certainly re-elect Xi Jinping for a third term as party leader on Sunday. Briton Anthony Saich , professor of international relations at Harvard Kennedy School and an expert on the Communist Party of China, wonders whether this is wise. “Does more of the same China take you further?” Economically, China is not doing well, says Saich. And he wonders how the country plans to get out of the corona situation. “The dynamic zero-Covid policy is very closely linked to Xi himself. As a result, you can hardly think about a life after corona in China, and about how China can reintegrate on the world stage.” Expert of the Communist Party of China British professor Anthony J. Saich is an expert on the Communist Party of China (CPC). He has been visiting the country regularly since 1976. As a professor and director , he is affiliated with the Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation of the Harvard Kennedy School in the United States. In 2021 his book One Hundred Years of the Chinese Communist Party was published. Will there be people left at the top who will contradict him? “After ten years in power, Xi is already mainly surrounded by his own followers. It will only get stronger after Congress. Then we might have what I call the ‘Putin syndrome’. Who then tells him: ‘No, this is not the right economic policy’ or ‘No, things are not good at all with Russia’? The longer he stays in power and the more he surrounds himself with his imitators, the more dangerous it becomes. For no one dares to say anymore that the emperor has no clothes on. This time, too, especially bureaucrats and apparatchiks will be promoted. Those are not real policy makers. That does not bode well for the challenges after the congress. Bureaucrats who simply do as Xi says may not be able to meet China’s new challenges at all.” By the way, what do you think about Xi’s future relationship with Russia? Is Xi turning more away from Russia now that Putin doesn’t seem to be winning the war in Ukraine? “When Putin said [at his summit with Xi in Uzbekistan in September] that Xi had expressed his concern about the war, and that Russia would respond to Xi’s questions, it was mainly interpreted in the West as Xi’s distancing from Putin. But maybe it was much earlier, “Why didn’t you finish that job long ago?” I am much more concerned about that.” Some analysts argue that Xi was able to get this far because of a very keen strategic sense. But a writer who knew Xi as a young man recently said: “There are many opportunists in China, but Xi is none of them. He’s not smart enough for that.” What do you think? “I have also heard from others that he is not that smart. He is clearly very ideologically driven, but he doesn’t understand anything about economics, for example. When he came to power, he was mainly seen as a safe choice. As someone who would not stir up unrest, and who would protect the party as much as possible.” Also read: Xi kept it short: only Taiwan still has to be ‘liberated’ Chinese leader Xi Jinping is gaining more and more power. That is dangerous for China and for himself, warns China expert Anthony Saich Photos AF Is it indeed a kind of man without qualities, an instrument in the hands of the party? “I also met him once, when he was still vice president of China. His daughter Xi Mingze studied at Harvard [2010-2014] and so he visited the rector of Harvard to thank her for her education. He was remarkably flat and passive. I still thought: If you’re vice president and you want to get promoted, that might be the best tactic. But our meeting with Jiang Zemin [President of China from 1993 to 2003] was very different. It was scheduled for half an hour, but we spent almost two hours with him. Anyone could ask him something, he was clearly enjoying himself. Rather, Xi made you feel like, ‘I want to get this over with and move on to the next.’” Are we perhaps mistaking his importance as a person? “He is very strongly supported by the party elite. The party was in a pretty difficult position when Xi came to power. There were serious problems within the party itself. There was corruption, which caused a lot of unrest in society. Inequality also increased sharply. The party was not immediately on the brink of collapse, but that could have happened if it had continued on the same footing for longer. Therefore there was support for Xi’s idea that this could be remedied by a united, disciplined party. It had to take power over as large a part of the economy and society as possible.” Also read: Nobody dares to talk about Xi, in his old village, because even if they say something positive, they can make a mistake You say Xi wants to stay on until 2035. What do you infer? “A successor has still not been appointed, and it will take five to ten years before that is settled. Xi also mentions 2035 as an important milestone on the way to his ultimate goal: the rebirth of the Chinese nation in 2049. Certain crucial goals must be achieved by 2035. From that I read that he wants to remain the dominant figure in Chinese politics until then. Then he would be in his early 80s, about the same age as [China’s former leader] Deng Xiaoping, who also only retired from politics around that age.” Do you think he will take Taiwan before he resigns? “The only year he has mentioned in that regard is that Taiwan will be part of the mainland in 2049. But I don’t believe any military action against Taiwan is imminent. Xi can lose power in two ways: if the economy or financial system collapses, or if he loses Taiwan. That would seriously affect his credibility. So I think he will remain cautious for the time being.” A version of this article also appeared in the newspaper of October 20, 2022