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All eyes on Xi as the Chinese Communist Party Congress begins

Chinese leader Xi Jinping pledged on Sunday to make China a “great modern socialist country” when he opened a Communist Party meeting where he is expected to secure a third term, extending the convention of top leaders who came to power after a decade. power to step aside is disrupted.

“From now on, the core mission of the Chinese Communist Party is to unite and lead all the peoples in the nation to build a great modern socialist nation,” Xi told the 2,340 senior party members gathered in the Great Hall of the People in Beijing for a twice-per-decade conclave.

Xi’s speech, which sets the national agenda for at least the next five years, emphasized the party’s need to “struggle” to make China great again. China had already created a “new choice” for humanity by creating a unique form of government, Xi said.

As the most powerful Chinese leader in decades, Xi has promoted his nationalist vision of a “Chinese dream” to reclaim the country’s place at the center of global affairs. For China to become a military, economic and cultural power, Xi said, the party will have to navigate “unseen changes in a century” — implying that a steady hand at the top is critical to success.

When Xi took office in 2012, the smooth transfer of power indicated to some observers that China’s political system had evolved from personal rule to one of regularized leadership transitions. But Xi exceeded expectations.

With endless anti-corruption campaigns and an emphasis on discipline, he took charge of the party. The rest of Chinese society was aligned with security measures that pushed human rights activists underground and crushed resistance in Hong Kong and the far western province of Xinjiang. Under his rule, international criticism of China has met with fierce reticence from “wolf warriors” diplomats.

The six-day meeting will end when delegates formally approve Xi’s report (with possible minor amendments), approve amendments to the party constitution and elect a new Central Committee, a decision-making body with 370 members. The new committee then meets and appoints a new 25-member Politburo and the seven-member Standing Committee, which is the real pinnacle of power.

Xi will almost certainly be reinstated as general secretary and head of the party’s Central Military Commission, his two main positions. (His expected continuation as president of China — officially “state president” — will be confirmed by the legislature next year.)

Observers are watching who will be promoted to join him in the Politburo for signs of challenges to Xi’s rule or an anointed successor. But after a decade in which Xi concentrated power into his own hands, few consider either outcome as likely. The term limits for the presidency were removed in 2018, paving the way for Xi to rule for life if he wishes.

“Xi Jinping is not only aiming for a third term, but also a fourth term,” said Willy Wo-Lap Lam, a senior fellow at the Jamestown Foundation. “He has ten years to choose his successor.”

Ahead of the opening day of the congress, China Central Television, the state broadcaster, released a series on Xi’s leadership titled “navigator” – a phrase that echoes Mao Zedong’s designation “steersman.” A possible outcome of the meeting could be the reinstatement of the “central committee chairman” system used by Mao, or Xi adopting an unofficial designation as “people’s leader” to indicate his undisputed status.

Xi’s leadership style, characterized by a preference for dividing people into enemies and friends, means he’s not one to compromise, said Chien-Wen Kou, a political scientist at National Chengchi University in Taiwan. Textual analysis of Xi’s words over the years shows that he praises and sees “struggle” as something to be valued. “This tells us how he feels about dealing with enemies,” Kou said. “He will essentially make no concessions to his founding principles, be it China-US ties, relations with Taiwan or his approach to corrupt officials.”

Even if there is resistance to Xi’s agenda, it is unlikely to appear during the carefully crafted congress. After months of closed-door negotiations between Xi and other top officials, the work report broadcasts policy prescriptions to the party’s grassroots. For the party, the choreographed process, which culminates in a show of hands vote to approve the new agenda, is a way of bolstering legitimacy in line with its claim that China too is democratic.

Many of Xi’s major updates to China’s policy outlook came at the last party congress in 2017, when he announced a “new era” and redefined the “main conflict” facing society from trying to produce more to ensure it. that people had a better quality of life — a seismic shift in the party’s Marxist framework with far-reaching implications for national priorities. At a Politburo meeting in August, top leaders said there will be continuity in promoting a program of “common prosperity”, strengthening the party domestically and building a “shared future for humanity” abroad. – all important Xi slogans.

But the Congress adds urgency to Xi’s ambition at a time when China’s economy is slowing and Beijing faces renewed criticism from Western countries over aggression against Taiwan and its close cooperation with Russia. “Xi has tried to revive some Maoist policies for the economy,” such as focusing on state-owned enterprises, tackling inequality and creating a system of “internal circulation” as a way to prepare for decoupling. of the United States and the West, Lam said.

Under its predecessor, the party experimented with minor reforms toward what it calls “intraparty democracy” by allowing an election by senior officials as a way to gauge support for various leaders to overthrow the Politburo and its Standing Committee. to achieve.

Xi scrapped those reforms in 2017. Instead, he met with party elders one by one to gather recommendations, helping him avoid cliques that could challenge his power. “It’s another example of Xi Jinping’s paranoia,” said Susan Shirk, a scientist in Chinese politics at the University of California, San Diego.

Tighter control doesn’t necessarily mean Xi gets the results he wants. In a recently published book, Shirk argues that Xi’s centralized power and top-down pressure on officials force executives into over-enthusiastic praise and over-compliance with Xi’s goals, which could lead to policy errors. “The toil of subordinates to prove loyalty and protect their own careers leads to overreach,” she said.

Shirk thinks it’s unlikely Xi will use his third term to change course. “He’s really locked himself in for a tough next five years,” she said. “After Congress, subordinates will be all the more intimidated and fearful unless Xi spreads his personal authority to share it with other senior leaders.”

Lyric Li in Seoul and Vic Chiang and Pei-Lin Wu in Taipei contributed to this report.

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