*As the U.S.-North Korea summit gets closer, we’ll be hearing more about–and from–China. It is no mere border neighbor.
But what’s making news right now out of Beijing is that President Xi Jinping will be president for life. Sounds like Mao Zedong in a business suit.
It’s a reminder that for all of its billionaires, casinos and economic-growth ploys, including steel dumping, China still remains a sovereign hybrid. More authoritarian than inscrutable.
If Xi were merely benefiting by the removal of term limits–and letting the people ultimately make the call–it would be much less newsworthy. Like a Mandarin FDR. But he’s not popularly elected. His president-for-life status was rubber-stamped by the country’s ceremonial parliament, the National People’s Congress. Sounds more Cuban than Chinese.
But something else, no less illustrative of what contemporary China is all about, is also making news out of Beijing. The hands weighing on social media just got a lot heavier. As in, the policing of Sina Weibo, China’s version of Twitter. Among what is now officially forbidden are the dissident use of terms such as “re-election” and “proclaiming oneself an emperor.” Also banned: images of Winnie the Pooh, perceived to share some of the unflattering features of President-for-life Xi. It would be humorous–if authoritarian overreaction were ever funny.
But, yes, it’s still OK to reference “climate change.”
* This just in. Anti-discrimination reforms and overall societal freedoms just keep coming in Saudi Arabia. By June, the ban on women driving will be lifted. Already we’ve seen women allowed into stadiums to watch sports. In addition, musical concerts are back, and later this month movie theaters will return after being banned since the 1980s.
The motivation? Somewhat shy of doing the right thing for the right societal reason. In short, Wahhabism and second-class status of women can be marketing challenges for a country trying to attract foreign investment. Image matters. Economically, there’s also a serious need to have more women participating in the workforce. Arguably, more pragmatic than progressive.
The Saudis have hardly done a 180 pivot. Guardianship laws still give men the final say on whether a woman can travel abroad, get a passport–or marry. Image only matters so much.