Xi Jinping’s Unparalleled Leadership
The Communist Party of China (CPC) is all set to elect new members of its Central Committee, Politburo and Politburo Standing Committee in its upcoming 19th National Congress which began from October 18. The quinquennial event is keenly watched both domestically and internationally because of the often opaque nature of Chinese political affairs which offers very fewer clues on the happenings. All the attention is mainly focused on the members who shall be elected to the all-powerful seven-member Politburo Standing Committee (PSC) as they would be the ones responsible for ruling China for the next five years.
After taking over as General Secretary of the CPC in 2012, President of the People’s Republic of China and Chairman of the Central Military Commission in 2013, Xi Jinping has moved swiftly to gain control of key organs and institutions of the state. Under him, the practice of collective leadership has faded away which was prevalent during the tenures of his predecessors Hu Jintao and Jiang Zemin as evidenced by the fact that he was identified last October as the core among the leaders of the PSC. Analysts believe that no single leader since Deng Xiaoping or Mao Zedong has someone been so powerful in China. Thus it is not hard to assume that the upcoming Congress will pick a majority of leaders who are loyal to Xi.
Since assuming office, Xi has constantly focused on four major agendas among others which he believes are the foundation for achieving the “Chinese Dream” by 2049 to coincide with the 100th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China. The first is the need for adherence to socialism with Chinese characteristics as the basis for achieving a prosperous society. The second is the campaign against corruption which, as per Xi’s vision, shall not spare either ‘flies’ or ‘tigers’. The third is the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), a major foreign policy and economic objective championed by Xi through which he envisages China to emerge as the leader of the globalized world. The BRI aims to put China at the forefront of global economy mainly through massive investments in trade, infrastructure and power among others. The fourth is the modernization of the Peoples’ Liberation Army into world-class and leading armed forces of the world.
Historically, the Chinese leaders have usually been identified through their generations with Mao, Deng, Jiang, Hu and Xi being the leaders from the first to the fifth generations respectively. Deng opined the idea of collective leadership so that no single leader would be too powerful to promote his individual interests or influence. Therefore, the tenures of Jiang and Hu saw China move forward with this spirit. All this seems to have changed after Xi’s rise as he has become the undisputed leader in China. Even Premier of the State Council Li Keqiang, the number two in the current PSC, is dwarfed by Xi’s growing clout and stature.
Although the Chinese Constitution has set a two-term limit for its President, the same is not true for the General Secretary of the CPC which effectively is the most important and powerful position in China rather than the post of the President. Since the time of Jiang and Hu, the convention for a Chinese leader has been to serve two five-year terms. Hu and Xi were inducted into the PSC well in advance because they had already been identified as the leader of their respective generations and were groomed accordingly before they took over the leadership. If the previous congresses in which Hu and Xi were elected to the PSC are to give any hint, a leader-in-waiting from the sixth generation should emerge and enter into the PSC in the upcoming Congress. However, speculation has mounted that Xi might tweak this practice.
At the end of Hu Jintao’s tenure in 2013, two leaders namely Hu Chunhua and Sun Zhengcai were considered as the potential leaders of the sixth generation who would eventually take over from their seniors in 2022. Hu Chunhua, in particular, was the favoured choice of Hu Jintao as he belonged to his Communist Youth League faction. Surprisingly Sun Zhengcai, who had been the Party Secretary of Chongqing, was recently dismissed from his post on charges of corruption and is being prosecuted. It is now to be seen if Hu Chunhua gets elected into the PSC. Even if he does, there is no guarantee that he would be the next leader as there has been speculation that Xi might be tempted to opt for a third term as General Secretary of the CPC in 2022. Recent events have shown that Chen Min’er, Sun’s replacement in Chongqing and a staunch Xi loyalist, as the rising candidate who might be inducted by Xi into the PSC to eventually succeed him in the future.
As per an unwritten but a practised convention of retiring from the PSC at the age of 68, five among its seven members will have to step down at the end of the Congress leaving only Xi and Premier Li as the remaining members. However, it has been speculated that Wang Qishan, one of the PSC members and Secretary of the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection and the right-hand man of Xi, might be asked to carry on. If this happens, it will again be a break from the existing practice and enhance the view that Xi is indeed determined to prolong his hold on power. With Xi’s current stature and control, this possibility cannot be discounted. Considering these prospects, a lot of gerrymandering can be expected in the upcoming Congress.
The past five years have shown that Xi has undoubtedly been the most powerful leader of China since Mao and Deng. Domestically, he has been able to maintain absolute control over the party, government and military. On the international front, he has spearheaded China’s assertive foreign policy with a strong influence in regional and global matters. The composition of the new PSC may not necessarily yield changes to the Chinese domestic and foreign policies as the leadership of Xi is expected to be further strengthened during his second term. There are also speculations that he is about to immortalize his legacy in the upcoming Congress with the entrenchment of his theory in the constitution bearing his own name which might be known as Xi Jinping Theory or Xi Jinping Thought. Jiang and Hu could not attach their names to their respective theories and even the Deng Xiaoping Theory was enshrined in the constitution only after Deng’s death. As things appear, Xi’s domestic authority is bound to remain unchallenged for now and on its basis, he seems determined to put China at the centre stage of a new world order to realize his “Chinese Dream”.
Thapa is a freelance writer