The leader wants to continue on the path of Mao and Deng by bringing more territory under Beijing’s control.
Date: July 30, 2020
By: Iain Marlow and Cindy Wang
Ever since Mao Zedong triumphed in 1949, prompting his Nationalist enemies to flee to Taiwan, Communist Party leaders have bolstered their legitimacy to rule by taming rebellious corners of China’s vast periphery.
The quest to capture lost territory prompted Mao’s army to subdue Tibet, where cadres co-opted Buddhist monasteries and eventually built a railway that ensured well-supplied garrisons of troops across the Himalayan plateau. He also reclaimed Xinjiang in the far west, a Muslim desert region the size of Iran where Silk Road traders once crossed paths with Uighurs—who have now been reduced to about 30% of the population of their own homeland after millions of China’s dominant Han ethnicity moved in. After Mao’s death, Deng Xiaoping further helped restore China’s glory following the so-called century of humiliation when he negotiated the return of two cities lost to colonial powers. The U.K. handed over Hong Kong in 1997, and Portugal followed two years later with Macao.
Xi Jinping has consolidated control in all of these places since taking power in 2012 and bolstered Beijing’s hold on disputed reefs in the South China Sea. Most notably, he set up a vast police state in Xinjiang that sent Muslims en masse to reeducation camps, and just in July he imposed a sweeping national security law in Hong Kong aimed at stamping out dissent in a city that many in the West once hoped would spur China to embrace democracy.