He is arguably the most powerful man on Earth.

Presiding over the second-biggest economy, the second-best-funded military and the world’s largest population.

Unlike his American counterpart, Xi Jinping does not have to fend off opposition political parties, a free media and internet, or a community of critical civil society groups.

And factional rivals? If they’re not in jail yet, they’re worried.

For personal power, Xi Jinping is like Vladimir Putin on steroids.

His decision to oversee a military parade this week reinforced his authority over the world’s largest army.

It was unprecedented for a Chinese leader to have a second parade in his first five-year term, but Mr Xi got it.

Likewise his earlier-than-usual elevation to “core” status within the Communist Party has China watchers wondering whether “Xi Jinping Thought or Theory” will be adopted as an official guideline — which would place him alongside Mao and Deng Xiaoping in the Party’s historical hierarchy.

If this all sounds esoteric, it is, but the rapid centralisation of power under Mr Xi affects ordinary citizens in China on a daily basis.

His Government has shut down popular entertainment websites (to purify the online space) and cracked down on services that allow people to circumvent internet censorship.

What is left is a politically sanitised social media space and a nationalistic news environment that is increasingly gushing in its praise of the country’s leader.

His signature anti-corruption campaign has felled thousands of officials (including a suspiciously high number of political rivals), but hasn’t inched the country one step closer to a rule of law system that people can trust.

Despite that, it appears to be broadly popular.

“People like him because he gives the confidence to the people that the CPC is back as a moral standard for China,” Sow Keat Tok of Melbourne University said.

Mr Xi’s strongman-style of leadership also coincides with a time of rising confidence about China’s national strength.

His assertive military-base construction drive on disputed reefs in the South China Sea has strategically emboldened China and revealed weakness from the US in its tepid response.

Just this week, he sent a warning to all seven neighbours China has territorial disputes with in which he stated, “we will never let anyone or any organisation or any political party at any time use any means to separate Chinese territory from China”.

His signature “Belt and Road” infrastructure plan is a longsighted vision to try to prolong China’s economic boom and enhance Beijing’s influence.

Even an economic slowdown that threatened to claim millions of jobs and stir discontent has failed to loosen his grip on power.

By Bill Birtles
ABC News

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