Ghassan Charbel
Editor-in-Chief of Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper

The Day the Emperor Arrived

These are very interesting times indeed. Not because the Russian general is harshly and efficiently carrying out the mission to displace the Ukrainians and push them towards darkness and the cold. Not because Britain is searching for a savior and can't find anyone like Churchil or Thatcher.

And not because the master of the Elysee is grappling with protests and fickle French tastes. Not because the Biden administration refuses to believe that the world has changed and that it must change its approach in how to deal with enemies and friends alike.

These are interesting times because of the congress that was held in the Chinese neighborhood of the “global village.”

When China comes out with an emperor, governors throughout its territories bow before his throne in reverence and loyalty. The gatherers at the congress applauded the election of Xi Jinping for a third term as leader of the 96 million-strong Communist Party.

The participants at the congress got the message. The process wasn’t the election of a president, but the consolidation of a leadership and a powerful man to lead the upcoming phase without having to worry about constitutional deadlines.

Xi brushed aside the obstacles that were in his way in the texts and the figures who were suspected of harboring ill will. And since the new term is being inaugurated at a critical time – from reclaiming Taiwan to the restructuring of the global order – Xi had to dismiss suspicious figures.

It is evident that the congress ratified a purge that has been taking place for years under the guise of combating corruption. Many senior figures in the party and military and security institution were toppled in the purge. In these types of systems, the lack of complete loyalty can lead to lethal corruption.

A western reading of the development in China does not help in understanding it. The master secretary general does not fear in the least the headlines of the coming day. He can know them in advance if he wanted. He doesn’t care if news about him is published in social media tabloids.

This China has no time for such adolescent behavior that exhausts western government. The current Chinese leader is not seeking settlements or partners. He is the lone general in the army, party and state.

The status of the emperor arises from his life story before it emerges from his vast authority and strict decisions. Xi’s story was woven with care. His father was a renowned communist official and fighter who endured the storms summoned by Mao Zedong and that led to major setbacks. Xi paid the price along with his father. He was oppressed and lived in hiding. He endured a lot and attempts were made to keep him out of the Communist Party.

But Xi is not the Chinese Mikhail Gorbachev as some in the West had deluded themselves in believing for a time. Xi will not lead the party to its demise and will not run the country to the ground. He will advance carefully and firmly towards new heights. His story will speak of a man who waited and insisted, took the initiative and acted firm, and was harsh when the circumstances demanded it.

When the Chinese Communist Party chooses its leader, the world has no choice but to coexist with him. The Chine of today is not the China of the past. It is an economic, technological and military giant. Xi Jinping is nothing like his predecessors who assumed power after the founder.

The congress ended with emphasis on his pivotal role. The leader who ended the phase of collective leadership and lifted the obstacles that had impeded the establishment of open-ended rule with absolute authority.

The messages of the congress were clear. The party had included in its charter the rejection of Taiwan’s independence. The second message was the escorting of former leader Hu Jintao out of the hall as the world was watching. It was a message to the outside world and the inside alike. A new extraordinary leader was born in China, with powers to almost rival Mao’s, during a critical time in the world.

We mustn't forget that Vladimir Putin will need quite some time to tend to his Ukrainian wounds, that is if he emerges victorious. The upheaval in the Biden administration needs no elaboration. It is not skilled in deterring enemies or in mending bridges with friends.

All this is taking place amid unprecedented international chaos. The world fooled us. We used to believe that it had learned the bitter lessons of the wars of the 20th century, such as the panic of the Cuban missile crisis, the American invasion of Iraq’s oil in the early 21st century and the major catastrophes caused by direct wars or those in proxy.

We used to believe that the time of reckless decisions was over and that the principles of the United Nations protect the weak. We believed that governments were preoccupied in helping their citizens out of poverty and unemployment and providing them with a decent education. We had even believed that taking the decision to go to war would be a difficult one. We were deluded in believing that governments were seriously assuming the responsibility of combating poverty and climate change and embracing progress and technological revolutions.

The world is not any less brutal. What we are witnessing is the awakening of old ghosts and the return of decision-making to generals and arsenals.

In the sick global village, a new Chinese emperor is born. He has already left his mark on his country and will soon leave it on the world. The emperor is in luck. The czar is wounded by shrapnel, the master of the White House is at a loss and wavering, and the Old Continent is very old indeed.