Next 20 years, China’s Xi Jinping may not give up the power

Updated: November 11, 2021 11:59 AM

The tradition established by the patriarch of Chinese reforms Deng Xiaoping to transfer power to a new leader at least every ten years did not last even three decades.

Xi JinpingThe current leadership of China does not equate events such as the 'Cultural Revolution' with authoritarianism or the rise of power of Xi Jinping. (Photo source: Reuters)

By Joseph P Chacko, 

Back in 2016, Xi Jinping was declared the ‘core of the national ideology of the PRC’. In 2017, at the 19th CPC Congress, there was no talk of Xi Jinping’s successor as General Secretary of the CPC Central Committee, who usually later becomes the PRC chairman. In 2018, China adopted amendments to the Constitution that abolished the two-term limitation on tenure as head of state which led to the actual concentration of power in the hands of one person, the elimination of political competitors, the dominance of one party in parliament, the dispersal of the already few independent media outlets, the adoption of repressive laws, persecution on those who are trying to resist the ‘statist’ line. The tradition established by the patriarch of Chinese reforms Deng Xiaoping to transfer power to a new leader at least every ten years did not last even three decades. In addition, an amendment to the Constitution was adopted that included Xi’s ideas on ‘socialism with Chinese characteristics.’ It’s 2021, and we say that Xi Jinping is now the unconditional Chinese leader.

How did Xi do it?

Over the years that Xi Jinping was in power, he successfully managed to consolidate the maximum amount of control and power in his hands, which, before him, probably only the ‘Great Helmsman’ Mao Zedong had. He succeeded mainly because his supporters helped him to carry out the party purge. One of the key tricks used by Xi Jinping was the large-scale so called anti-corruption campaign along with his longtime friend Wang Qishan, the current Vice President of the PRC. Wang Qishan, during the first term of Xi Jinping, was the head of the Communist Party’s Central Commission for Discipline Inspection. Wang crafted the architecture of this whole anti-corruption campaign, which helped Xi Jinping cleanse the party of all those who could potentially be disloyal to him personally. Most of the members of the current composition of the Politburo are, in one way or another, personally connected with Xi Jinping, while the Politburo includes people with the greatest influence on political life in the PRC. There is practically no one in the Politburo who rose with his own connections or thanks to the meritocratic system, which earlier allowed those who deserved it in years of service to climb the career ladder.

If one wishes, in a country like China, they can find certain incriminating information about any official. Therefore, the anti-corruption campaign against “tigers and flies” was not a direct fight against corruption as such, but really, a purge of the PRC leadership from people disloyal to Xi Jinping. Xi Jinping’s current protégés engage in corruption now? Maybe yes. The system works in a way that decisions are made behind closed doors, and there is no transparency in public administration. In principle, in any country, not just China, there are great opportunities for corruption for some people to use it. In China, you can easily find many examples of conflicts of interest that are directly or rumoured to be associated with one official or the other. This is how the system works.

Why did Xi do it?

I am no judge of Xi’s character; very few can claim it, but I can attempt through some circumstantial evidence.

The current leadership of China does not equate events such as the ‘Cultural Revolution’ with authoritarianism or the rise of power of Xi Jinping. The Cultural Revolution is seen by both Xi Jinping’s supporters and his opponents as something that played a negative role in the PRC’s history, and it is something that should not be returned to. The current dispensation may be well aware that the Cultural Revolution was only beneficial to Mao Zedong, and it was his campaign to hold on to power. Xi himself comes from the family of one of the repressed former leaders of the PRC from the Cultural Revolution era. It appears that Xi’s regime thinks that it has embarked on the correct path for the development of China and that it is at the very beginning of this path. Xi’s first term saw the consolidation of all the power in his hands to get rid of the constant games with the rest of the clans resistant to his ideas of reforms or ideas of some internal political changes. Now he has the time to implement all the ideas that he has.

At the end of his life, Deng Xiaoping did not hold the highest government posts, but practically all important decisions were agreed upon with him until his death. Before the limitation of the terms that the President of the PRC can run office was lifted, it was assumed that a similar scenario would most likely happen, which was with Deng Xiaoping: Xi Jinping may leave and retain either some nominal position or will to lead the Military Council under the Communist Party, as Deng Xiaoping did in his time. It will be interesting to watch the upcoming 20th CCP Congress, which will be in the fall of 2022.

The tradition of changing bureaucratic generations, instead of the leader, was seen in imperial China. But the same example was not seen in modern China. Under Hu Jintao, the influence of the previous periods was too strong, and he was unable to sit still and hold on, although he made such attempts, quite substantial. And Xi Jinping just managed to do it. If they have the opportunity to usurp power with a high degree of probability, most rulers will use the opportunity.

What is in for China?

Mao had put China back on its feet, a contribution witnessed in 1949 with the founding of the People’s Republic of China. Deng put it on the path to wealth. And now the party is about to give a historical role to Xi and therefore Xi, not at this moment but in the next months or two years, will have to give a historical message to his China for the next 20 years. And it remains to be seen what it wants to give to China and the Chinese.

(The author is a publisher, columnist and author. He writes on defence and strategic affairs and occasionally other topics. Twitter: @chackojoseph Views expressed are personal and do not reflect the official position or policy of Financial Express Online. Reproducing this content without permission is prohibited).

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