JINPING EMERGES AS CHINA’S MOST POWERFUL LEADER SINCE MAO
In October 18, Beijing organised a week-long 19th National Congress of Communist Party of China, an event that the world is following closely. The summit — being attended by 2,287 party members from various provinces — is important as it will select its new brand of leadership, agendas and goals for the next five years and ahead.
Moreover, the 19th National Congress is a significant political event for Chinese President Xi Jinping himself. Since assuming power in 2012, he has envisioned a “national rejuvenation” programme for China under the theme of “Chinese dream”. This is attached to two major centenary goals: To make China moderately prosperous society by 2020, a year before centenary celebration of the Communist Party of China (CPC), and to aim to establish a prosperous and powerful nation by 2049 to commemorate the centenary year of the People’s Republic of China (PRC).
These goals have been planned to be fulfilled with a number of reform programmes and the highlights are: Reforms in the army, fight to root out corruption from political, military and public spheres, and poverty eradication.
Xi in his October 18 speech at the Congress highlighted that in the last five years China has made drastic progress through these reforms. It aims to lift total 98 million people from poverty trap in eight years, which shall be a remark- able feat. In addition, China has worked towards right-sizing of military and its modernization. The country’s fight against corruption has seen prominent military and political bigwigs falling from the grace. Progress in reforms in the last five years under Xi’s leadership has been promising, however the road ahead is fraught with daunting internal and external challenges, primarily concerning the economic slowdown, the promotion of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), North Korean crisis, etc.
Politically, the 19th National Congress will entail selection of around 200 full members and 100 alternate members, finalization of 25-member Politburo Committee and seven-member Politburo Standing Committee and lastly the members of the anti-corruption watchdog CCDI, currently being headed by Xi’s loyalist Wang Qishan.
In 1980, President Deng Xiaoping had put in place the concept of collective leadership to prevent or guard re- turn to arbitrary abuses of Mao’s final decades (the cultural revolution). Similarly, the Article 79 of the party constitution restricts tenures of President and Premier to 10 years, however there are no restrictions on general secretary of the CPC and chairman of the Central Military Commission (CMC). There has been an unofficial but consistent rule called “seven up, eight down” according to which if a Politburo Standing Committee member is 68 or older at the time of a party Congress, he must retire, but if he is 67 or younger, he may still enter the committee.
In the current situation, five of the seven PSC members are about to complete 68 years of age. However, the speculation is rife that the “seven up, eight down” rule will be violated to allow Wang Qishan, head of the CCDI, to stay put beyond the retirement age. As per certain analysts, this could be indicative of President Xi’s intention to retain power beyond 2022.
President Xi has amassed much control and his predominance is clearly established in the Chinese political spectrum. He is now regarded as the most powerful leader in decades after Mao. He has taken charge of most of the portfolios and ruling through the leading small groups and has placed his key aides at various nerve centers.
The communique of the sixth plenum of the 8th Congress clearly insists that the principles of collective leadership must always be followed and should not be violated by any organisation or individual under any circumstances or any reasons.
Such statements accentuate the hypothesis above. As regard the chain of succession is concerned, the concept of patronage underscores in China’s Communist Party. The senior party members identify promising stars/ protégés and nurture them for higher dispensations. This ensures loyalty in the lineage. As per certain political analysts, 23 politburo members are of the fifth generation (1953 born like President Xi), and there is speculation that President Xi may block their advancement to the Politburo Standing Committee, while promoting own sixth generation protégés or loyalists to fill the politburo, thereby creating conditions to extend the tenure beyond the 20th Congress, in the absence of qualified members.
It may be pertinent to mention that the erstwhile Soviet Union too faced similar conditions of slowing economy and systemic corruption in political, military and military spheres, which lead to its final collapse. President Xi, out of concern or fears, has perhaps taken actions to guard China against such situations.
All these assumptions and conjectures will be put to rest by the end of the 19th National Congress, which would have selected the members of the politburo committee, Politburo Standing Committee and members of the Central Military Commission.
Speculation, however, is mounting rapidly in favor of President Xi that he may be nominated as the general secretary of the CPC and chairman of the CMC for life-term to steer the nation towards achieving the momentous centenary goals.
BY Gaurav Misra | in Oped