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Tough Times for the Tough Guys

Authoritarian leaders worldwide are confronting mounting crises of their own making. But while Chinese President Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin face slower-brewing challenges, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and US President Donald Trump seem to be bringing matters in their respective countries to a head.

TARN, FRANCE – Shares in strongman leaders seem to be falling. The market has not yet turned bearish, but autocrats have little reason to feel bullish.

Consider China. The internal power games of the Communist Party of China (CPC) are notoriously opaque, and rarely does political infighting reach the level at which it cannot be covered up. And yet rumbles of disquiet can clearly be heard. This month, as President Xi Jinping and his senior advisers retreated to the seaside resort of Beidaihe, rumors were circulating about growing criticism of Xi’s personality cult among the CPC rank and file.

Judging by the rumors, Xi should be asking himself if it was wise to roll back Deng Xiaoping’s reforms, and to ignore the precedents set by former CPC leaders such as Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao. He might also want to reconsider his triumphalist rhetoric, given US President Donald Trump’s nationalist sensitivities and protectionist bullying. Lastly, he may want to reassess his signature policy, the Belt and Road Initiative, which is increasingly being criticized as a mechanism for China to export its debt to other indebted countries, often through investments in white elephants and other dubious projects.

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