Six things to know as Xi Jinping becomes China’s dictator for life

Here are six things to know about Xi’s rise to power at the October 20 Party Congress in mid-October — and the country’s complicated trajectory.

Beijing’s communist black box

Party Congresses are held every five years and are examples of the CCP’s obsessive secrecy. Chinese public awareness of the event is basically limited to its location and whatever hints the CCP chooses to distribute via state media in the run-up to the event.

This year, that includes the disclosure that the Party Congress will likely approve an unspecified amendment to the constitution. Note: This is a constitution that Xi has already rewritten to allow for his unprecedented third term.

Beyond that, the specific agenda is a mystery. The debates are not open to the public and the results – including the approval of a working report that outlines the Party’s policy priorities for the next five years – are often not published until a few weeks after the event.

Xi limited his comments on the upcoming Congress to boilerplate propaganda points.

“The 20th CPC National Congress will provide a panoramic perspective of the two-stage strategic plan for China’s drive to build a great modern socialist country in all respects,” Xi told an officials study session. provincial and ministerial meetings in Beijing in July.

But this pablum is a sign of confidence.

Xi’s trip to the Shanghai Cooperation Organization summit in Uzbekistan – his first foray outside the country since the pandemic – is decisive confirmation that he feels no threat from potential Party rivals. “[I]t shows a very high level of confidence that he has the [Chinese leadership] situation under control and that he will obtain his third mandate”, said Yun Sun, director of the China program at the Stimson Center.

He literally wrote his name in the history books.

The CCP telegraphed Xi’s third term with a Central Committee resolution in November that enshrined him as a central figure essential to China’s growing wealth and power.

The historic resolution of the sixth plenum placed Xi on a par with Mao and Deng Xiaoping, who orchestrated China’s four decades of meteoric economic growth. The resolution lavishes no less than 20,000 words – out of a 27,000-word document – on Xi’s achievements since taking office in 2013.

But unlike Mao, whose authority was absolute as China was mired in poverty and troubled by wildly disruptive internal campaigns – including the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution – Xi presided over an authoritarian one-party state. increasingly aggressive and expansive, fueled by the four decade economic booms.

A collision course with the United States

Xi’s goal of economic, diplomatic and military dominance will put China in direct conflict with the Biden administration’s commitment to democracy, human rights and a rules-based international order. This is the antithesis of Xi’s hawkish vision of the “national rejuvenation” of the Chinese nation.

“I foresee ‘more of the same’: more inner repression, more outward assertiveness and perhaps aggression. Xi is not about to change course, and certainly not in a more liberal or cooperative direction,” said David Shambaugh, founding director of the China Policy Program at George Washington University’s Elliott School of International Affairs.

“Xi and China could become even more brazen on the outside – further solidifying the de facto alliance with Russia, confronting the United States, probing and attempting to undermine Western resolve and American alliances around the world, pulling leveraging China’s power against its Asian neighbors and Taiwan, and continuing to expand China’s military footprint around the world,” Shambaugh added.

The Biden administration has not publicly commented on the implications of Xi’s third term.

The turbulent state of U.S.-China relations — punctuated by trade tensions, Chinese military intimidation of Taiwan and the administration’s accusation of genocide in Xinjiang — makes it highly unlikely that Biden will congratulate Xi on his third term as the leader. then-President Donald Trump said when Xi won his second term in 2017.

Full control over the state

Xi’s growing power has allowed him to reach corners of Chinese society once considered untouchable. One such target has been China’s new generation of wealthy elites known as “fuerdaior rich second generation.

Its focus on reducing social inequality – part of its “common prosperity” initiative – has included measures to “adjust excessive income to promote social fairness and justice”, the Central Financial Affairs Committee said. and economics of the CCP in a statement in August 2021.

Xi’s campaign on inequality has targeted China’s once freewheeling tech sector and the billionaires behind it, following his call in August 2021 that China’s wealthiest should “give back more to society”. Chinese tech mega-companies like Tencent and Alibaba have donated billions of dollars to joint prosperity initiatives to demonstrate corporate submission to Xi’s economic agenda.

Worrying signs in the economy and abroad

But when Xi emerges from the 20th Party Congress with the CCP’s endorsement of a third term, the array of challenges facing China – many of which relate to Xi’s own politics – leave no time for a victory lap.

China’s youth unemployment rate rose to 19.9% ​​in July, its highest rate since Chinese statisticians began calculating it in 2018. This is sobering news for a party state. which counts on the improvement of the standard of living as a key element of its legitimacy.

Xi’s zero-Covid strategy may have saved many lives, but massive city closures have angered citizens and fueled unemployment. Meanwhile, one of the main drivers of economic growth, China’s real estate sector, is collapsing as property developers default on their debts, leading to a sharp decline in home construction.

Xi also faces severe headwinds outside China’s borders. Beijing’s unfair trade practices and weaponization of state-sponsored espionage to fuel its military-industrial complex have undermined China’s relationship with its partners. And China’s human rights abuses in Xinjiang, the impacts of a draconian national security law imposed on Hong Kong in 2020 and Taiwan’s worsening military intimidation have fueled a growing international discourse on the Chinese threat.

China is “the most serious long-term challenge to the international order,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in May.

These suspicions are pushing the United States and China toward “a new cold war,” China’s ambassador to Washington, DC, Qin Gang, warned in July.

On the mainland, relations between China and the European Union have soured over the past two years in response to Beijing’s efforts to strangle Lithuania economically in retaliation for deepening ties with Taiwan.

And concerns over China’s increasingly aggressive military posture in Asia and its willingness to use economic coercion against its trading partners have seeded a growing narrative of the Chinese threat in the Indo-Pacific, from the Australia to South Korea.

Xi’s perceived failures in handling these issues — and worries about his personality cult — have sparked rumors of internal CCP opposition to his third term.

“The next five years require a lot of crisis management in China [and] Xi’s top priority will be economic growth, politics [and] social stability and external political and national security,” said Alfred Chan, professor of political science at Huron University College and author of Xi Jinping: Political Career, Governance, and Leadership, 1953-2018.

What happens afterwards?

But Xi still has other cards to play. He will likely quell any potential dissent within the ranks of the CCP by replacing some or all of the 11 Politburo members above the unofficial retirement age of 68 – including top Chinese diplomat Yang Jiechi, the foreign minister Foreign Wang Yi and Vice Premier Liu He – by trusted acolytes.

“During his third term, he will have more of his proteges, that is, the people he promoted to senior management, which will make him more powerful,” said Cheng Li, director of the John L. Thornton China Center at the Brookings Institution. .

Senior CCP officials can demand that Xi symbolically sacrifice one of his titles or publicly anoint a successor as the price of another term.

But the lack of a clear successor waiting in the wings should ring alarm bells in foreign capitals. “If we don’t get any clues, and if there’s no one who seems to have that function, that’s a little weird,” said Kerry Brown, director of the Lau China Institute at King’s College London.

“What happens if Xi is incapacitated or drops dead? For a risk averse entity, the Party puts all its eggs in one basket and that is quite risky.

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