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Is Xi Jinping a Dictator?

Xi Jinping (AI-generated image)


On June 20, US President Joe Biden called People's Republic of China (PRC) leader Xi Jinping a “dictator” during a speech at a fundraiser in California. 

Referring to the PRC spy balloon shot down on February 4 of this year, Biden said that Xi Jinping "got very upset" because "he didn’t know it was there", adding that it is "a great embarrassment for dictators" when they don't know that something as important as this has happened. 

PRC foreign ministry spokesperson Mao Ning said that Biden’s comments were "extremely absurd" and a "political provocation" which "seriously violated China’s political dignity". The US ambassador to the PRC was reportedly reprimanded over the comments.

Several media organisations immediately rushed to give voice to Beijing's complaints about that characterisation. 

"Biden calling Xi a dictator is his latest ad-lib to anger a foreign capital," wrote the Washington Post

"Fierce backlash in Beijing to Biden likening Xi to a dictator comes as he hopes for a thaw," read a CNN headline. 

The real question is: how have we got to the point where calling the PRC dictator a dictator is controversial, and where some imply that Biden should not tell the truth so as not to anger Beijing? 

According to its own Constitution, the PRC defines itself as a "people's democratic dictatorship":

"We the Chinese people of all ethnic groups will continue, under the leadership of the Communist Party of China and the guidance of Marxism-Leninism, Mao Zedong Thought, Deng Xiaoping Theory, the Theory of Three Represents, the Scientific Outlook on Development and Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era, to uphold the people’s democratic dictatorship" (my emphasis). 

I am going to discuss in another post what the term means, but to sum it up, it's the Leninist idea of a Communist vanguard leading the masses, i.e. it's a dictatorial, top-down approach. I have explained in a previous post how Chinese Communist authoritarianism differs from the authoritarianism of imperial times. 

In the era of Deng Xiaoping and his successor Jiang Zemin, the PRC had moved away from Mao Zedong's personality cult towards what became known as "collective leadership", a more institutionalised and decentralised system of governance (Economy 2019, Introduction). 

Since taking power in 2012, Xi Jinping and his associates have reverted back to a centralised autocratic model. 

"Over the course of Xi Jinping’s tenure as CCP general secretary and president, he has accrued progressively more institutional and personal power. Unlike his immediate predecessors, he has assumed control of all the most important leading committees and commissions that oversee government policy; demanded pledges of personal loyalty from military and party leaders; eliminated political rivals through a sweeping anticorruption campaign; and adopted the moniker of 'core' leader, which signifies his ultimate authority within a traditionally collective leadership. By many accounts, Xi is the most powerful leader since Mao Zedong" (ibid.).

One example of Xi Jinping's impact on society is his crackdown on freedom of speech, which undid the albeit modest progress of the previous decades.  

Why is anyone shocked because Joe Biden called Xi Jinping a dictator? Is it ignorance? Or is it simply our current Zeitgeist of "both-sidesism" and moral equivalence? Xi Jinping simply is a dictator, and if the PRC is bothered by the truth, it's not the US President's job to lie on their behalf.  

If you enjoyed this article, consider supporting my work. Thank you! 


Economy, E. (2019). The Third Revolution: Xi Jinping and the New Chinese State. 


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