Why Xi Jinping will dominate this week’s 19th Party Congress and what it means for China’s future.

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At the outbreak of the Cultural Revolution in 1966, Mao Zedong informed his colleagues, “Someone once said: Only an emperor would believe there were no parties outside the Party, and it would be exceedingly strange for there to be no factions inside the Party. Thus it is for our Communist Party.” Fifty years later, Xi Jinping, the current general secretary of the Communist Party of China (CCP) and president of China, is trying to prove Mao wrong.
Since assuming leadership of the party in 2012, Xi has used his first five-year term to prosecute a multi-pronged attack on rival party and government officials, patronage networks, and institutions within the party-state — all with the goal of eliminating competing centers of power and the much-maligned “vested interests.” New data show that this has, for Xi, been a massive success. And this week’s 19th National Party Congress will further Xi’s cause. But in the long term, the dominance of a single leader instead of the consensus rule of the past three decades may end up sabotaging China’s own grand ambitions.
Xi’s goal is not to eliminate all competing individuals and ideas within the party — that would be impossible in an organization of 89 million members. Rather, the clear objective is to eradicate the organizational means to establish and sustain patronage networks that are not controlled by Xi or his clear close allies. The recent disassembling of the Communist Youth League, the strengthening of party committees within state-owned enterprises, and the “four consciousnesses campaign” of loyalty to the party and Xi are just some examples of Xi’s demand for all entities within China to be unified under his command.
The speed and ferocity with which Xi has achieved near-unrivaled dominance over the institutions of party control has provoked comparisons to the Great Helmsman himself, Mao Zedong.
The speed and ferocity with which Xi has achieved near-unrivaled dominance over the institutions of party control has provoked comparisons to the Great Helmsman himself, Mao Zedong.
While these analogies are often overwrought, it is incontrovertible that Xi is no longer first among equals, as with his predecessors Deng Xiaoping, Jiang Zemin, and Hu Jintao. Instead he is supreme leader and, as of late 2016, the “core” of the CCP central apparatus.
Yet Xi’s work is far from done. The upcoming 19th National Party Congress, which begins on Oct. 18, and where the top party leadership will be reshuffled, presents a crucial test for just how close Xi Jinping is to reaching his goal of a unified CCP under his unassailable command. If he gets his way at the Party Congress, and his key allies are installed in the Politburo and its all-powerful Standing Committee, as well as key leadership positions in the party, Xi’s position for the coming five-year term (2017-2022) will be strengthened immensely and he will have come very close to realizing the dream of a factionless party in the foreseeable future. If his followers control all the key organs of the party, potential rivals will find it difficult to build factions through any individual organs, as the Communist Youth League did during the Hu Jintao years.
Making definitive statements like these about Chinese politics is notoriously difficult. The great Simon Leys once called the analysis of communist politics “the art of interpreting nonexistent inscriptions written in invisible ink on a blank page.” And it’s true, in the black-box world of Chinese politics: Reliable data is virtually nonexistent. Yet there are measures we can turn to, however imperfect, to evaluate just how powerful Xi has become in the five years since assuming power, and how unrivaled his strength may soon become.
Party Planning
The first, and most obvious, measure of power in a Leninist political system such as China’s — where power over all institutions of governance is dominated by a single opaque and hierarchical party — is the ability to advance existing allies and create new ones through key, targeted promotions while isolating, and ideally overseeing the downfall of, potential enemies.
On this front, Xi has done immensely well, aided by the sword of his anti-corruption campaign, which has allowed him to eliminate powerful rivals — most famously former security czar Zhou Yongkang and People’s Liberation Army officers Xu Caihou and Guo Boxiong. More recently, Xi orchestrated the purge of Sun Zhengcai, who until this summer was seen as a possible future leader. Those with strong ties to previous party leaders have also been removed, the best-known of which was Ling Jihua, an ally of former president and CCP general secretary Hu who was sentenced to life imprisonment on corruption charges in 2016.
At the same time, Hu’s followers were blocked from obtaining any additional key positions after the 18th Party Congress in 2012, an imperative for Xi if he was to avoid replicating Hu’s inability to break free from the shadow of his predecessor, Jiang Zemin. There are few impediments as frustrating to a current party leader as a retired one, a fate Xi was clearly determined to avoid.
– By Victor Shih, Jude Blanchette, October 16, 2017. Follow the link at http://foreignpolicy.com/2017/10/16/1-3-billion-people-are-in-one-mans-grip-xi-jinping-china-party-congress/

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