Beijing Diary

Why CPC Congress is significant for Xi Jinping and China

During his first term, Xi has already amassed more power than any leader since Mao Zedong.

 |  Beijing Diary  |  4-minute read |   11-10-2017
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On October 18, the Communist Party of China (CPC) will hold its twice-a-decade leadership Congress, a week-long event where 2,270 delegates from across China will gather to formalise the selection of the next leadership. The 19th Party Congress will choose the top leaders for President Xi Jinping’s second five-year term.

Why does it matter? During his first term, Xi already amassed more power than any leader since Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping and drastically overhauled the “collective leadership” model that China has followed for the past two decades.

The Congress will shed the clearest light yet on the extent of Xi’s power and influence, which will, to a great extent, shape China’s economic rise, foreign policy and military posture for the next decade. Here are five key outcomes to watch out for in order to make sense of next week’s Congress:

The seven men who rule China

On the first day after the 19th Congress concludes, the new 19th Central Committee of around 200 full members will “elect” (at least in theory, although backroom negotiations are the ultimate determinant) the next 25-member Politburo and Politburo Standing Committee (PBSC), the currently seven-member body that effectively rules China. The composition of the PBSC will be the first telling clue on how well or not the Congress has gone for Xi.

Willy Lam, adjunct professor at the Center for China Studies, Chinese University of Hong Kong, says Xi’s “hatchet man” Li Zhanshu, is a shoe-in and maybe the next anti-corruption czar. Less certain is the fate of Wang Huning, a key Xi ideologue. If both of them, as well as the young Xi protégé Chen Min’er, make it, it will suggest the PBSC will be stacked with Xi’s men.

It’s all in the ideology

Another key outcome that China watchers are paying attention to is any change in the party’s “guiding ideology” that is mentioned in the party constitution. The only leaders who are mentioned by name are Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping. Their successors, Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao, had their “ideological contributions” added into the official ideology only after they stepped down, but without their names being mentioned.

If Xi’s ideological contribution is added into the party’s official guiding ideology mid-way through this two terms, it would confirm he has far surpassed his predecessors. And should his name be mentioned, it would mean we should all but prepare for the rise of Mao 2.0.

If for instance, “Xi Jinping Thought” is enshrined into the constitution, it would mean Xi “will be credited with having contributed to a level of theoretical innovation equal to Mao Zedong and perhaps even surpassing him”, says long-time China scholar David Kelly, who is research director of China Policy in Beijing.


After Xi, who?

Xi’s two predecessors stepped down after two five-year terms. Whether he will do so or not in 2022 is another key question, says Lam. “I was one of the first China-watchers to suggest he will emulate his good friend Putin by staying at least 15 years as leader, until the 2027 Congress,” says Lam, pointing to the fact that Xi has been slow to promote the sixth and seventh generation leadership.

“If no sixth-gen stars are inducted, it would suggest he may stay on and take 10 years to groom his favourites,” says Lam.

The blueprint for China’s rise

The Congress will also approve the policy blueprint for the next five years, outlining everything from China’s growth goals to its ambitious plans for high-tech growth. It will also reveal how China plans to take forward its push for global economic leadership, which it has already signalled through its massive “One Belt, One Road” initiative.

“Brexit and Donald Trump are a windfall for China. This is a new opportunity to make this claim,” says Kelly. On the other hand, he notes, there is strong pushback, with “some saying China will become a major power only by first addressing domestic challenges, from education to health reform” rather than spending billions abroad (and some of it wastefully). The Congress may shed some light on how Xi charts the economic course ahead.

The new PLA

The Congress will also choose the next members of the party’s Central Military Commission, which controls the People’s Liberation Army (PLA). Rumours suggest Xi may streamline the CMC and cut it down to five, from seven. This would confirm he is firmly in command of the military. Of interest to India will be the fate of the head of the Western Theater Command, General Zhao Zongqi. A promotion would suggest the party is pleased with his handling of the Doklam crisis.

(Courtesy of Mail Today.)

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Ananth Krishnan Ananth Krishnan @ananthkrishnan

The writer is China correspondent for India Today.

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