Xi at a World War II parade

When Xi Jinping became the effective leader of China in November 2012 and March 2013, he did so with three titles: 1) President of the People’s Republic of China; 2) Chairman of the Chinese Communist Party; and 3) Chairman of the Central Military Commission Ian Johnson wrote in the New York Times: Xi took “office with more titular authority than any Chinese leader in history. He took over as the chief of the ruling Communist Party and chairman of the Central Military Commission, the top overseer of China’s armed forces, sooner than expected. Other leaders in the post-Mao era have had more staggered transitions into the top posts. [Source: Ian Johnson, New York Times, November 15, 2012]

Evan Osnos wrote in The New Yorker in 2015, “A quarter of the way through his ten-year term, he has emerged as the most authoritarian leader since Chairman Mao. In the name of protection and purity, he has investigated tens of thousands of his countrymen, on charges ranging from corruption to leaking state secrets and inciting the overthrow of the state. He has acquired or created ten titles for himself, including not only head of state and head of the military but also leader of the Party’s most powerful committees—on foreign policy, Taiwan, and the economy. He has installed himself as the head of new bodies overseeing the Internet, government restructuring, national security, and military reform, and he has effectively taken over the courts, the police, and the secret police. “He’s at the center of everything,” Gary Locke, the former American Ambassador to Beijing, told me. [Source: Evan Osnos, The New Yorker, April 6, 2015]

“In building public support and honing a message Xi has revealed a powerful desire for transformation. He calls on China to pursue the Chinese Dream: the “great rejuvenation of the nation,” a mixture of prosperity, unity, and strength. He has proposed at least sixty social and economic changes, ranging from relaxing the one-child policy to eliminating camps for “reëducation through labor” and curtailing state monopolies. He has sought prestige abroad; on his first foreign trip (to Moscow), he was accompanied by his wife, a celebrity soprano named Peng Liyuan, who inspired lavish coverage of China’s first modern Presidential couple. Peng soon appeared on Vanity Fair’s Best-Dressed List.

Gillian Wong of Associated Press wrote: “Since being appointed party leader in late 2012, Xi has moved aggressively to make his personal stamp with campaigns against graft and official waste and by waging an offensive against liberal, Western ideas. Party and government officials and managers of state companies have fallen. Advocates for official transparency and a fairer society have been jailed. Xi's forceful style is a contrast with his predecessors Hu Jintao and Jiang Zemin, who were seen as relatively weak leaders who had to win agreement from others on the party's ruling Standing Committee. After Hu became party leader in 2002, Jiang resisted giving up his last official post on the military commission until two years later. By contrast, when Xi took office in 2012, Hu handed over all his party posts. [Source: Gillian Wong, Associated Press, July 3, 2014 ]

China scholar Willy Wo-Lap Lam told the New York Times: “He’s much more a disciple of Mao Zedong than Deng Xiaoping. In the 1950s, even though China was very poor and the military was weak, Mao implemented an audacious foreign policy — to be the leader of the developing world. He was an ultranationalist, and so is Xi. But there’s a more pragmatic reason as well: the legitimacy of the party. No one believes in Communism anymore, so without ballot-box legitimacy there are two forms of legitimacy: economic growth and nationalism. G.D.P. growth is coming down. So that leaves nationalism.” [Source: Ian Johnson, New York Times, June 2, 2015]

Xi Jinping Quickly Consolidates Power

The speed with which Xi has consolidated power since becoming general secretary of the party has taken many by surprise, and prompted comparisons to both Deng and Mao. In December 2014, U.S. President Barack Obama said, "He has consolidated power faster and more comprehensively than probably anybody since Deng Xiaoping," who led China from 1978 to 1992. "And everybody's been impressed by his ... clout inside of China after only a year and a half or two years. There are dangers in that. On issues of human rights, on issues of clamping down on dissent. He taps into a nationalism that worries his neighbors. "[Source: Jeff Mason and Steve Holland, Reuters, December 4, 2014]

Gillian Wong of Associated Press wrote: ““Xi has dedicated his first 20 months in power to establishing his authority over seemingly all strategic areas. That has prompted suggestions he might be trying to roll back the consensus-oriented leadership of the past two decades and restore rule by a dominant strongman. But experts say collective leadership is here to stay because the ruling party is wary of returning to the turbulence China endured under the former supreme leader Mao Zedong. [Source: Gillian Wong, Associated Press, July 3, 2014 ]

“The new leader has espoused a vision of a "Chinese Dream" of boosting national pride and quality of life. Abroad, he has taken an aggressive stance on Chinese sovereignty over disputed territories, squaring off against Japan and the Philippines. After deadly attacks blamed on militant Muslims, Xi ordered an unusually severe security crackdown that produced 380 arrests in the first month. Elsewhere, activists who have called for transparency and accountability in the government have been jailed or harassed. Moves that win Xi the most public favor appear to be campaigns to root out graft and to compel party officials to live more simply. "I think there's a kind of core, belief conviction element to this, which is that Xi has always sounded, since being elevated to power, like someone who feels like this has been his destiny," said Kerry Brown, an expert in Chinese politics at the University of Sydney. "He's got all these powers and it seems to imply this kind of rather striking sense of destiny. The language he uses is increasingly grandiose and almost messianic."

Carl Minzner wrote in the Los Angeles Times, “Since 2012, Xi has concentrated an astounding array of power in his hands. Special leadership groups on economic reform, on domestic security, on media propaganda now report to him. A whiff of a personality cult has emerged. And Chinese elite politics has suddenly become very interesting again. A sweeping anti-corruption campaign is shaking the bureaucracy. Retired leaders once regarded as untouchable are falling left and right. These waves are even beginning to lap around the Shanghai power base of China's former top leader, Jiang Zemin, who not only remained a power broker long after he left office, but even facilitated Xi's rise.” [Source: Carl Minzner, Los Angeles Times, October 20, 2014]

How Xi Jinping Has Consolidated Power

Xi with Putin at the World War II parade

Evan Osnos wrote in The New Yorker, “In the Chinese Communist Party, you campaign after you get the job, not before. In Xi’s early months, supporters in the West speculated that he wanted to silence hard-line critics, and would open up later, perhaps in his second term, which begins in 2017. That view has largely disappeared. [Source: Evan Osnos, The New Yorker, April 6, 2015 ^^^]

“In his determination to gain control and protect the Party, Xi may have generated a different kind of threat: he has pried apart internal fault lines and shaken the equilibrium that for a generation marked the nation’s rise. Before Xi took power, top officials presumed that they were protected. Yu Hua, the novelist, told me, “As China grew, what really came to matter were the ‘unwritten rules.’ When the real rules weren’t specific enough or clear enough, when policies and laws lagged behind reality, you always relied on the unwritten rules.” They dictated everything from how much to tip a surgeon to how far an N.G.O. could go before it was suppressed. “The unwritten rules have been broken,” Yu said. “This is how it should be, of course, but laws haven’t arrived yet.” ^^^

“Xi believed that there was a grave threat to China from within. According to U.S. diplomats, Xi’s friend the professor described Xi as “repulsed by the all-encompassing commercialization of Chinese society, with its attendant nouveaux riches, official corruption, loss of values, dignity, and self-respect, and such ‘moral evils’ as drugs and prostitution.” If he ever became China’s top leader, the professor had predicted, “he would likely aggressively attempt to address these evils, perhaps at the expense of the new moneyed class.” Though princelings and their siblings had profited comfortably from China’s rise (Xi’s sister Qi Qiaoqiao is reported to have large corporate and real-estate assets), the revolutionary families considered their gains appropriate, and they blamed the hired hands for allowing corruption and extravagance, which stirred up public rage and threatened the Party’s future. ^^^

“The first step to a solution was to reëstablish control. The “collective Presidency,” which spread power across the Standing Committee, had constrained Hu Jintao so thoroughly that he was nicknamed the Woman with Bound Feet. Xi surrounded himself with a shadow cabinet that was defined less by a single ideology than by school ties and political reliability. Members included Liu He, a childhood playmate who had become a reform-minded economist, and Liu Yuan, a hawkish general and the son of former President Liu Shaoqi. The most important was Wang Qishan, a friend for decades, who was placed in charge of the Central Commission on Discipline and Inspection, the agency that launched the vast anticorruption campaign.” ^^^

Xi Jinping and the Big Boss Model

President Xi Jinping of China, who has veered away from the “first among equals” approach in favor of the “big boss” model, according to the China scholar Willy Wo-Lap Lam.China scholar Willy Wo-Lap Lam told the New York Times: “Xi is very different from previous leaders. Basically Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao followed Deng Xiaoping’s instructions not only to reform the economy, but to carry out some degree of institutional changes. Deng didn’t believe in Western-style reforms, but he did try major institutional reforms to prevent a second Cultural Revolution and a Mao Zedong-style tyranny. So he promoted collective leadership — that the [ruling Communist Party’s] Politburo and especially its Standing Committee rule as a collective entity and the general secretary is just first among equals. Also, he didn’t want a cult of personality. Deng had a famous saying that leadership should come from the “five lakes and four seas” — from different backgrounds and all walks of life.But Xi Jinping so far has stood many of Deng’s principles on their heads. We have seen an excessive concentration of personal power by Xi Jinping. He’s not first among equals. He’s the big boss. He runs roughshod over the other six members of the Standing Committee, especially Premier Li Keqiang. [Source: Ian Johnson, New York Times, June 2, 2015 |::|]

“This is the so-called theory of neo-authoritarianism — that in a complex country like China, the ruler must have near-absolutist powers. Xi says that all the easy reforms have been tried out. He’s been left with difficult reforms that would impinge on the prerogatives of power blocs in the party — and so he needs extra powers to push through changes. But the big question...is why thorough structural reforms are nowhere to be seen. I believe he is concentrating power for two purposes. One, to ensure that the Communist Party remains China’s perennial ruling party. He wants to be sure that no one else can challenge the supremacy of the party. Also that it only has one dominant faction, the inchoate Xi Jinping faction. It’s about amassing powers in his own hands — and it has very little to do with economic or political reform. |::|

“For a rising star in China, the worst thing you can do is to be seen as harboring excessive ambition and upstaging your superiors.The other reason could have been his father’s experience. His father, Xi Zhongxun, was a liberal icon and was badly treated by Mao Zedong. My reading of his relationship with his father is that, even though it’s beyond doubt that Xi Jinping reveres his father, the latter’s political stance served as a negative example — of what not to do. So seeing how his brilliant, outspoken and liberal father was victimized by Mao, Xi Jinping decided to do the opposite: to cleave close to party orthodoxy.” |::|

Xi Jinping’s Purges

Xu Caihou, a victim of Xi's purges

Alice Su wrote in the Los Angeles Times: In July 2020, Xi announced a new “education and rectification” campaign to discipline China’s political and legal systems, including police officers, judges and members of the secretive Ministry of State Security. The campaign slogans call for “turning the knife inward” to “scrape poison off the bone,” meaning to find, punish and reform — or purge — any potentially disloyal individuals. “Officials leading the campaign have called it a renewed version of the rectification drive Mao launched at the party base of Yanan in the 1940s, where the chairman used group indoctrination, self-criticism, forced confession and “struggle” sessions to eliminate perceived internal rivals. “It is unusual that Xi “does not perceive his power to be completely consolidated, even eight years in," said Sheena Greitens, a professor of public affairs who studies Chinese approaches to security at the University of Texas at Austin. Xi may be launching this campaign to prepare for 2022, when he will transition into an unprecedented third term, she said. But a political system prone to crackdowns can turn suspicious and brittle, with everyone afraid to point out problems or admit mistakes. It is what allowed the initial cover-up of a virus spreading in Wuhan last winter, at the cost of thousands of civilian deaths. When things go wrong, however, Xi has used a classic technique: punishing local officials while keeping the emperor free of blame. [Source: Alice Su, Los Angeles Times, October 22, 2020]

In July 2014, about a year a half after becoming president, Xi Jinping, ousted Xu Caihou (Shoo Tseye-hoh) a retired general who had been deputy chairman of its Central Military Commission, which controls the Chinese military. At the time Gillian Wong of Associated Press wrote: The ouster of one of China's top military figures reflects Communist Party leader Xi Jinping's determination to impose his personal authority far more ambitiously than his recent predecessors. In possibly his boldest move so far, Xi struck at the core of the military elite when the ruling party expelled Xu Caihou. The party said Xu would face charges in a military court of taking money and property in exchange for promotions and other favors. [Source: Gillian Wong, Associated Press, July 3, 2014]

“Xi has tried to establish his authority over the People's Liberation Army more quickly and effectively than his predecessors Hu Jintao and Jiang Zemin and to show he is willing to tackle corruption in the politically influential military. "The investigation started in March, so it took barely three months for Xu to be expelled from the party," said Dali Yang, an expert in Chinese politics at the University of Chicago. "It really shows a remarkable ability by Xi and his colleagues and also a very strong signal to try to clean up the military and to make the military a force that's focused on military matters rather than promotions and corruption." The dozens of officials ensnared in the crackdown, including Cabinet figures and former executives of state-owned energy giant PetroChina Ltd., make this the most sweeping purge since the upending of the Chinese leadership during the 1966-76 Cultural Revolution.

Xi took charge of committees that shape policies on national security, the Internet and economic reform. That reduced the role Premier Li Keqiang, the party's No. 2 leader, plays in managing the economy, typically the premier's responsibility. The announcement of Xu's expulsion followed rumors that Xu, 71, had been detained from his sickbed in March. Some observers had thought Xu would be spared prosecution because of terminal cancer. Experts said Xu was seen as an ally of Jiang, who still wields influence."Xu Caihou was often considered as Jiang's man and so probably this case indicates the further weakening of Jiang's influence and generally the weakening of what you may call 'old man politics'," said Warren Sun, a Chinese leadership expert at Australia's Monash University. "He probably wants to signal more clearly the arrival of the Xi Jinping era."

Xi Jinping Takes More Direct Control Over the Chinese Military

Xi with soldiers in Inner Mongolia

In April 2016, Xi Jinping took more direct control over the Chinese military by becoming the chief of the military's Joint Operations Command Center. The three other key titles that Xi holds are 1) general secretary of the Communist Party of China, 2) president, and 3) chairman of the Central Military Commission (CMC), which oversees the army. As chief of the military's Joint Operations Command Center Xi takes becomes operational commander of the PLA in times of war. The CMC is responsible for the PLA’s management and defence building, while the joint battle command centre focuses on combat and relevant strategies. [Source: Minnie Chan, South China Morning Post, April 21, 2016 ||||]

Christopher Bodeen of Associated Press wrote: “Xi Jinping has assumed a more direct role over the country's powerful armed forces as head of its increasingly important joint operations, displaying both his strong personal authority and China's determination to defend its interests. The move to make Xi commander in chief of the military's Joint Operations Command Center bolsters his status as China's most powerful leader in decades. Xi already enjoys special influence with the armed forces, largely because his muscular foreign policy is popular among Chinese nationalists and the defense establishment. [Source: Christopher Bodeen, Associated Press, April 21, 2016 ***]

“Xi visited the Joint Operations Command Center — reportedly located underground in the western outskirts of Beijing — on and said officers need to prepare for conflicts and effectively handle "all sorts of emergencies," state media reported. Xi was shown publicly for the first time in camouflage battle dress with the joint center's insignia, rather than the featureless olive drab attire he usually wears when acting in his capacity as chairman of the Communist Party commission that oversees the 2.3 million-member People's Liberation Army, the world's largest standing armed forces. Xi's choice of apparel "indicates that he not only controls the military, but also does it in an absolute manner, and that in wartime, he is ready to command personally," said Ni Lexiong, a military affairs expert at Shanghai's University of Political Science and Law. "The most important message he meant to send to the world is that he will not make a concession on the issue of territory even at the cost of a war," Ni said. ***

“The joint center is under the direct supervision of the Central Military Commission, whose two vice chairmen, Gen. Fan Changlong and Gen. Xu Qiliang, accompanied Xi on his visit. Xi's new title and appearance in battle dress may also be a deliberate message to China's chief rivals, including the U.S., Japan, the Philippines and the self-governing island of Taiwan that China has vowed to conquer by force if necessary. "The combat uniform is not only to show he is in charge of the military, but also shows that China is ready for a fight amid a tense external situation. It is a bit like telling China's opponents that he is ready for combat," Ni said. ***

Xi with military leaders

Christopher Bodeen of Associated Press wrote: ““Xi's new title is "more political than military" in significance and doesn't imply he will take charge of the day-to-day running of the PLA, said Andrei Chang, Hong Kong-based editor of the magazine Kanwa Asian Defense and a close observer of Chinese military affairs. "Throughout Chinese history, political power has always been founded on control of the military," Chang said. "This was a visit to show off his muscle to his potential enemies and show that he is tough and in charge." [Source: Christopher Bodeen, Associated Press, April 21, 2016 ***]

Minnie Chan wrote in the South China Morning Post: “Observers said the post and uniform were aimed at sending a message to the world that he was not only the top administrative leader of the world’s biggest army, but also the chief commander of the fighting force... Analysts said the move showed Xi had built up a level of personal authority over troops on par with late leaders such as Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping. Xi said the new command should be “absolutely loyal, resourceful in fighting, efficient in commanding, and courageous and capable of winning wars”, China Central Television reported. Hong Kong-based military expert Liang Guoliang said Xi’s new title was similar to the US president’s position as the commander-in-chief of the country’s armed forces. “The CMC is a leading organisation, but not a command body in wartime,” Liang said. ||||

George Friedman wrote in Business Insider: “ The new title in all likelihood means little in terms of actual command, but it has tremendous political significance. The PLA is the center of gravity of the regime, and if Xi loses control of it, he could lose control of everything. Xi would never have appointed himself head of the Joint Operations Command Center if he hadn’t felt the move absolutely necessary. He moved to take control of the PLA’s operations to ensure that he could preserve the regime. He put a very different gloss on the action, positioning it as an expansion of his power… and it was. But it was an expansion compelled by the regime’s insecurity. At first glance, his move should succeed. But there are so many complex and competing interests involved that when Xi pushes on some, others could come loose.” [Source: George Friedman, Mauldin Economics, Business Insider, April 30, 2016]

Xi Jinping Consolidates Power by Minimalizing the Communist Youth League

In August 2016, Xi Jinping firmed his grip on power by reorganizing and reducing the power and influence of the Communist Party Youth League. Noah Feldman wrote in Bloomberg: “The story on the surface sounds innocuous, as is often the case in China’s opaque internal politics: The People’s Daily, the official Communist Party newspaper, announced a reorganization of the Communist Youth League. But what makes this so significant to China’s future — and therefore global security — is that the league has for decades functioned as one of two incipient political parties within the Communist Party. That President Xi Jinping has essentially purged it is evidence of his gradual, mindful push to become the country’s all-powerful dictator. [Source: Noah Feldman, Bloomberg, August 11, 2016 ++]

“Instead of sharing power across factions as his two predecessors did, Xi is consolidating power for himself. And, as the recent coup attempt in Turkey demonstrates, a slow march toward dictatorship is a leading indicator of future instability. To understand what’s going on, you have to start with the fact that China’s extraordinary rise to economic and political superpower status didn’t happen under a dictatorship. China’s system is undoubtedly authoritarian, and the Communist Party controls all the important politics as well as much of the economy. But since 1989, when Deng Xiaoping stepped away from politics, China hasn’t been run by a single strongman at the top. ++

“Instead, under Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao — for a period of 25 years corresponding to China’s unprecedented growth — the Communist Party governed through a complex consensus. Leaders are selected by a series of party committees that are themselves composed through a complicated political process. As a result, getting ahead in the Communist Party and rising to a position of importance requires a dense network of personal and professional connections. To simplify greatly, there are two ways to build such a network. ++

“One is to be born into it and inherit your father’s network. Party officials who gain power this way are often called “princelings” because they’re descended from powerful and prominent Communist parents. Xi is a princeling. His father had a checkered party career, but at various times served as head of the party propaganda department and vice premier of the country. The other way to get a network is to build it yourself. To become a self-made Communist leader isn’t easy. You need intelligence, political savvy and social skills — not to mention proven success in the jobs you hold. It also helps to belong to an organization. ++

“For many self-made senior party leaders, the Communist Youth League has been that organization. Because of its focus on university students, the league was a natural place for the smartest and most effective aspiring party leaders to network with one another. The league functioned as political base where they could shine. Over time, the princelings and the Communist Youth League alumni came to form two quasi-factions within the party. Think of them as the Bushes and the Clintons. The former were hooked into multigenerational networks of power; the latter often came from nothing, but entered the highest echelons of politics nevertheless. Together they formed a political establishment. ++

“Xi’s rise to power wasn’t inevitable. Some observers thought that the top spot would go to Li Keqiang, a Communist Youth League alum who ended up as Xi’s No. 2, in the job of premier. Li’s family had no major national party figures in it. He rose through merit, earning a law degree at Peking University and then a doctorate in economics. His selection as premier reflected the previous leadership generation’s strategy of balancing princelings against league members in important government posts. ++

“But Xi, who has purged numerous senior party leaders on corruption charges — many fully justified — has different ideas. Xi wants to eliminate the Communist Youth League as a political base for meritocratic challengers. That’s potentially very dangerous for China’s stability, for at least two related reasons. The first is that self-made meritocrats are dangerous sources of revolution if they are denied access to power. Xi seems pretty confident of his capacity to consolidate power instead of sharing it. But he could overplay his hand by giving the smartest and most motivated Chinese leaders reason to organize against him. Trying to curtail the Communist Youth League means that Xi sees it as a threat, at least to some degree. ++

“Second, meritocrats have contributed vastly to China’s economic success. The Communist Party has been able to implement market-driven economic reforms because it has drawn on cadres of extremely intelligent, highly effective leaders while giving them the incentive to succeed through the promise of rising within the party. As China’s economy slows, it needs more self-made, entrepreneurial, merit-oriented officials, not fewer. By sidelining the Communist Youth League, Xi is blocking one line of access to power for meritocrats. That’s going to drive some of them out of the party and even out of the country. China is already experiencing a degree of brain drain; this move will make it worse. Xi has a plan, it would seem. He must think he can harness China’s best and brightest through some other, less threatening means than the league. But his path away from authoritarian consensus toward dictatorship is unlikely to remain as smooth as it has been thus far. The consequences are going to be major — for China and for the world.” ++

Xi greeting members of Chinese ethnic minorities

Xi Jinping Becomes China’s ‘Core’ Leader

In October 2016, Xi Jinping was given the title of “core leader” at a party meeting. Chris Buckley wrote in the New York Times: The title doesn’t come with particular powers, but it gives Mr. Xi special stature and sends an intimidating signal that he should not be crossed. By giving Mr. Xi the honor in a formal document, senior Communist Party officials have shown that, willingly or not, they’ve bowed to his dominance. [Source: Chris Buckley, New York Times, October 30, 2016]

Mr. Xi’s new title is meant to reinforce his authority to push through policies in the face of doubts and foot dragging. The term “core leader” goes back only a few decades, and has been given to four leaders: Mao Zedong, Deng Xiaoping, Jiang Zemin and now Mr. Xi. Mao, though, never used it to describe himself. After him, it goes back to the upheavals of 1989, when party elders made Mr. Jiang the Communist Party general secretary after deposing Zhao Ziyang. Deng tried to strengthen Mr. Jiang by calling him the uncontested “core leader” of his generation. Deng said he and Mao had been the core leaders of their generations, and that established the so-called core lineage. But it’s not automatically given. Mr. Xi’s immediate predecessor, Hu Jintao, was a less assertive leader and never got the title of core leader. He may not have even sought it. This time, Mr. Xi has, in effect, crowned himself with the term, unlike when Deng thrust it on Mr. Jiang.

“Mao and Deng established their tremendous personal authority through decades of revolutionary struggle and war. They didn’t need formal titles to exude dominance, and they made some of their fateful decisions — like Mao’s launching of the Cultural Revolution or Deng’s decision to use armed force against protesters in 1989 — outside conventional political channels.

“But Mr. Xi’s power is less personal than Mao’s or Deng’s. By the time Mr. Xi rose in the party, Chinese politics had become more settled and tied to procedures, and he has been skilled at creating and remaking rules and institutions to magnify his power. He has done that, for example, by creating leading groups under him to make policy, and by giving sharper teeth to the party’s discipline agency. That power doesn’t mean that Mr. Xi is always effective, and the new title will worry critics who say he is trying to control too much, leading to poor policy. In the attempt to steer the economy, especially, centralization under Mr. Xi has brought confusion and policy flip-flops. Being the “chairman of everything,” as Mr. Xi has been called, could backfire.

Xi Jinping Concentration of Power, Understandable?

John Minnich wrote in Newsweek: “Since taking office in 2012, Chinese President Xi Jinping has remade his country’s political landscape. He has detained hundreds of thousands of corrupt or non-compliant officials. He has ousted dozens of senior leaders and sidelined many of the previous decade’s most powerful figures. And he has undermined alternative paths to power, most notably the recently reorganized Communist Youth League. Xi is fast consolidating his position as the uncontested “core” of his generation of Communist Party leaders. In other words, under Xi Jinping, Chinese elite politics is returning to historical form. After two anomalous decades of consensus-based leadership, intra-Party politics in the People’s Republic is once again a contest for supreme power. [Source: John Minnich, Newsweek, August 20, 2016 ==]

“Xi’s push to remold the People’s Republic in his image may be disconcerting, especially to Western observers. It is also understandable. Collective leadership served post-Tiananmen China well. Rapid economic growth called for political stability and predictability, not dynamism. But in recent years, as China’s economy began to slow and its international role and interests expanded, the shortcomings of Deng’s system of collective leadership became apparent. Economically, China is entering a period of tremendous, potentially destabilizing change. For more than 20 years, the country looked to low-cost exports and state-led investment into construction to fuel its explosive growth. Now, rising input costs, ballooning debt, and declining returns on construction-related spending are upending this model. China’s leaders want to shift the country to a consumption-led growth model. But private consumption is equivalent to only 37 percent of GDP—far too weak to sustain nationwide economic growth. It will take time to get China’s economy from where it is—investment, mostly from the state, is still equivalent to almost half of GDP—to where it needs to be. ==

China’s evolving international position and imperatives similarly expose the limits of consensus politics. China is becoming a full-fledged great power. Its economic interests span the globe and its military footprint is growing. The nation’s public increasingly sees China as a key player in world politics and looks to its leaders to defend the country’s interests with strength, creativity and confidence. Though less tangible than the vagaries of economic decision-making, these international and societal pressures are no less powerful as nails in the coffin of collective leadership. ==

These factors make Xi’s concentration of power understandable. But they do not guarantee it will succeed. For every Mao or Deng who won a contest for intra-Party influence, there are many more who lost spectacularly. And the system Deng built has proved far more resilient than many anticipated, precisely because of its collective nature. In his effort to undo Deng’s checks and balances, Xi still faces enormous challenges. The depth of these challenges is apparent, above all, in the scope, intensity and duration of his anti-corruption campaign. It is reflected in his push to sideline alternate power bases like the Communist Youth League. And it can be seen in Xi’s budding efforts to craft a cult of personality for himself and to strengthen his grasp on state media and propaganda organs. But regardless of Xi’s success or failure, Deng’s vision of limited government is not likely to last. In China, where power tends to concentrate and politics is a game of winner-takes-all, the Deng era was doomed to be at best a brief interlude.” ==

Xi Jinping’s Clampdown on the Media and Dissent

Another element of Xi Jinping concentration of power has been a clampdown on the media and dissent Rogier Creemers of Oxford University wrote: “When he took over as General Secretary, Xi Jinping found a Party and a state in chaos: corruption had become endemic, and the Party organization was still reeling from the Bo Xilai fallout. Social media and the Internet had severely challenged the Party’s ability to manage information. Observers both inside and outside China denounced Hu Jintao’s tenure as a “lost decade”, and that democratization and openness had become an inevitable necessity for China’s further development. [Source: Rogier Creemers, “Ideology Matters: Parsing Recent Changes in China’s Intellectual Landscape”, February 8, 2015. Creemers is a Rubicon Scholar at the Centre for Socio-Legal Studies, an Associate at the China Centre of Oxford University /=/]

“Rather than catering to these demands, however, Xi has methodically neutralized opposition across the political spectrum. When liberal reformers called for “constitutional governance” (xianzheng) at the end or 2012, the leadership countered with Document No. 9, another secret circular that identified seven crucial ideological dangers, including the promotion of Western constitutionalism, universal values, civil society, neoliberal economics, freedom of the press, historical nihilism and challenging Socialism with Chinese characteristics. The Internet and the academy were singled out as the two main venues where these ideological risks materialized. /=/

“The Internet was targeted first. In the second half of 2013, a protracted crackdown took down the online celebrities and opinion leaders that had become known as Big Vs. New regulations imposed jail sentences on the publication of harmful information, if it were retweeted more than 500 times. This vastly reduced the attraction of public communication forums such as Weibo, and hastened an exodus towards more private applications, most notably WeChat. The Internet governing order was consolidated in 2014 with the establishment of the Central Leading Group for Cyberspace Affairs and the expansion of the Cyberspace Administration of China. Public WeChat accounts were put under stricter controls, real-name registration systems began to be more aggressively implemented across various areas, and online video and literature came under closer scrutiny. Concerns about foreign infiltration through computer software and hardware are currently being addressed through import substitution measures and security reviews. /=/

“Tackling the academy was thus the next logical step. According to the January Central Committee Document, universities are to put a higher priority on teaching (research is only mentioned insofar it concerns Marxist and Socialist theory), strengthen a common ideological basis and enhance Party leadership in higher education. Political theory courses and textbooks are to be centralized, and new evaluation and performance management systems introduced, in order to standardize the curriculum. Teaching staff will be required to participate in regular ideology training and study sessions, and to spend time engaging in “social practice” outside campuses. In the weeks since this document was published, the heads of all elite education institutions have published pledges of allegiance in various Party media.” /=/

Xi Xinping poster

Xi Jinping Hardline Academic Support

Chris Buckley wrote in the New York Times: “A tide of Chinese scholars have turned against Western-inspired ideas that once flowed in China’s universities” and “instead promote the proudly authoritarian worldview ascendant under Xi Jinping. leader. This cadre of Chinese intellectuals serve as champions, even official advisers, defending and honing the party’s hardening policies, including the rollout of the security law in Hong Kong. [Source: Chris Buckley, New York Times, August 2, 2020]

“While China’s Communist Party has long nurtured legions of academics to defend its agenda, these authoritarian thinkers stand out for their unabashed, often flashily erudite advocacy of one-party rule and assertive sovereignty, and their turn against the liberal ideas that many of them once embraced. They portray themselves as fortifying China for an era of deepening ideological rivalry. They describe the United States as a dangerous, overreaching shambles, even more so in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. They oppose constitutional fetters on Communist Party control, arguing that Western-inspired ideas of the rule of law are a dangerous mirage that could hobble the party. “They argue that China must reclaim its status as a world power, even as a new kind of benign empire displacing the United States. They extol Mr. Xi as a historic leader, guiding China through a momentous transformation.

“A number of these scholars, sometimes called “statists,” have worked on policy toward Hong Kong, the sole territory under Chinese rule that has been a stubborn enclave for pro-democracy defiance of Beijing. Their proposals have fed into China’s increasingly uncompromising line, including the security law, which has swiftly curbed protests and political debate. “We ignore these voices at our own risk,” said Timothy Cheek, a historian at the University of British Columbia who helps run Reading the China Dream, a website that translates works by Chinese thinkers. “They give voice to a stream of Chinese political thought that is probably more influential than liberal thought.”

“As well as earnestly citing Mr. Xi’s speeches, these academics draw on ancient Chinese thinkers who counseled stern rulership, along with Western critics of liberal political traditions. Traditional Marxism is rarely cited; they are proponents of order, not revolution. Many of them make respectful nods in their papers to Carl Schmitt, the German legal theorist who supplied rightist leaders in the 1930s and the emerging Nazi regime with arguments for extreme executive power in times of crisis, Ryan Mitchell, an assistant professor of law at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, documented in a recent paper. “They’ve provided the reasoning and justification,” Fu Hualing, a professor of law at the University of Hong Kong, said of China’s new authoritarian scholars. “In a way, it’s the Carl Schmitt moment here.”

“More than fear and career rewards have driven this resurgence of authoritarian ideas in China. The global financial crisis of 2007, and the United States’ floundering response to the coronavirus pandemic, have reinforced Chinese views that liberal democracies are decaying, while China has prospered, defying predictions of the collapse of one-party rule.

“China’s authoritarian academics have proposed policies to assimilate ethnic minorities thoroughly. They have defended Mr. Xi’s abolition of a term limit on the presidency, opening the way for him to stay in power indefinitely. They have argued that Chinese-style “rule by law” is inseparable from rule by the Communist Party. And more recently they have served as intellectual warriors in Beijing’s efforts to subdue protest in Hong Kong. “For them, law becomes a weapon, but it’s law that’s subordinated to politics,” said Sebastian Veg, a professor at the School of Advanced Studies in Social Sciences in Paris who has studied the rise of China’s statist thinkers. “We’ve seen that at work in China, and now it seems to me we’re seeing it come to Hong Kong.”

Xi Allowed to Be 'President for Life' as Term Limits Removed

In March 2018, China approved the removal of the two-term limit on the presidency, effectively allowing Xi Jinping to be in power for life. The BBC reported: The constitutional changes were passed by the annual sitting of parliament, the National People's Congress. The vote was widely regarded as a rubber-stamping exercise. Two delegates voted against the change and three abstained, out of 2,964 votes. On paper, the congress is the most powerful legislative body in China - similar to the parliament in other nations. But it was widely believed that it would approve what it was told to.[Source: BBC, March 11. 2018]

China had imposed a two-term limit on its president since the 1990s. But Mr Xi, who would have been due to step down in 2023, defied the tradition of presenting a potential successor during October's Communist Party Congress. Instead, he consolidated his political power as the party voted to enshrine his name and political ideology in the party's constitution - elevating his status to the level of its founder, Chairman Mao.

It is now hard to see Xi Jinping being challenged in any way whatsoever. He has amassed power the likes of which has not been seen since Chairman Mao Zedong. Up until 2013, Beijing was being ruled by a collective leadership. Under ex-President Hu Jintao you could imagine differing views being expressed in the then nine-member Politburo Standing Committee. There was a feeling that Mr Hu needed to please various factions within the Communist Party and it seemed that every 10 years a new leader would come along with their own people in a process of smooth transition.

Now “all this has gone. The constitution has been altered to allow Xi Jinping to remain as president beyond two terms and they would not have gone to this much trouble if that was not exactly what he intended to do. There has been no national debate as to whether a leader should be allowed to stay on for as long as they choose. Quietly but surely Xi Jinping has changed the way his country is governed, with himself well and truly at the core.

The issue is not, however, without controversy. Online censors in China have been blocking discussion around the topic, including images of Winnie the Pooh. Social media users have taken to using the cartoon character to represent Mr Xi. One government critic described the proposal in an open letter last month as a "farce", in a rare show of public dissent. Former state newspaper editor Li Datong wrote that scrapping term limits for the president and vice-president would sow the seeds of chaos - in a message sent to some members of the national congress. "I couldn't bear it any more. I was discussing with my friends and we were enraged. We have to voice our opposition," he told BBC Chinese.

Xi Jinping’s Moves to Rule China for Life

In 2015, Willy Lam wrote in Foreign Policy, “ Just two and a half years into his reign, Xi appears to be angling to break the 10-year-tenure rule for the country’s supreme leader, with the aim of serving longer than any Chinese ruler in decades. “According to three sources close to top CCP officials, Xi and several top aides are making plans to ensure that the strongman will rule until at least 2027, when he will still be a relatively sprightly 74 years old. “Xi’s total dominance of the party-state-military apparatus — and the fact that he has so far not groomed any successor — indicates that he will remain China’s supreme ruler irrespective of whether he gives up his post of CCP general secretary in 2022,” said one of the sources, [Source: Willy Lam, Foreign Policy, April 1, 2015 ^:^]

“Xi’s desire to rule for longer than a decade is best evidenced by his refusal to publicly groom potential successors. In China, leaders are often classified by their generation. Xi, a member of the fifth generation of leadership — a reference to cadres born in the 1950s — has failed to groom potential successors from the sixth or seventh generation. Consider, by contrast, the actions of his predecessor Hu Jintao, CCP general secretary from 2002 to 2012, who was born in 1942 and was the core leader of the fourth generation. Not long after ascending to the elite Politburo Standing Committee (PBSC) in 1992, Hu started preparing to elevate fifth-generation cadres, including Xi Jinping (then Zhejiang province party secretary) and Li Keqiang (then Liaoning province party secretary and now China’s premier) to the 25-member ruling body, the Politburo. He also elevated slightly lower-ranking officials: By the mid 1990s, roughly 20 fifth-generation rising stars had achieved the rank of vice minister or above. ^:^

“If Xi were following the CCP’s tradition of injecting new blood into the ruling elite, he should by late 2015 promote a few dozen seventh-generation officials to ministers and vice ministers. However, only one seventh-generation cadre — Shanghai Vice Mayor Shi Guanghui (born 1970) — has attained the rank of vice minister since Xi came to office in November 2012. It seems very unlikely that he’ll elevate many more this year. ^:^

Xi seems poised to break another unwritten rule. Ever since the late 1980s, the top level of the party has unofficially followed the policy of qishang baxia, or “seven in, eight out”: A cadre 67 years of age or younger can still ascend to the PBSC, while one who is 68 or older cannot. At the major party congresses, held every five years, PBSC members 68 and over are expected to retire, while those under 68 can stay on. Of the current seven members of the PBSC, all but Xi and Li will be 68 or older by 2017 — and therefore should retire. But who will replace the ranks?

The three anonymous party sources indicate that at least three fifth-generation candidates who are confidants of Xi — Li Zhanshu (born 1950), Wang Huning (born 1955), and Zhao Leji (born 1957) — will likely ascend to the PBSC in 2017. More significantly, current PBSC member Wang Qishan (born 1948), the nation’s top graft-buster, would likely get a second term. This is even though Wang, a fellow princeling who has known Xi since the 1950s, will be 69 years old at the 19th Party Congress in 2017. That fifth-generation leaders will likely remain the bulwark of the party leadership until the 20th Party Congress in 2022 is another indication, the sources say, that Xi will try to stay on at least until the 21st Party Congress in 2027.

“Given the expectation that a supreme leader should only remain in power for 10 years, how will Xi sidestep this entrenched tradition? The Chinese constitution bars government ministers, including the prime minister, from serving more than 10 years. However, the CCP Charter — the Communist Party’s constitution — carries no stipulation about the length of service of cadres with ranks equivalent to minister or above. Instead, there’s an unofficial rule instituted by Deng Xiaoping, China’s paramount leader for most of the 1980s and 1990s, that members of the PBSC don’t serve more than 10 years. But it’s possible that Xi could step down as president and still remain the country’s top official.In China, while the CCP and the government often appear to exist in parallel, the CCP in fact outranks and controls the government. For example, the top official in Hubei province is the province’s party secretary; the provincial governor ranks second. The same is true at the national level. Of Xi’s three titles – president, general secretary of the CCP, and chairman of the Central Military Commission (CMC), which oversees China’s military — the CCP position is by far the most important. ^:^

“Besides holding onto the position of CCP general secretary, Xi has other options. One scenario is that Xi will revive the position of party chairman — which Deng abolished in 1982 in an apparent effort to weaken Mao’s legacy — and take the post himself. This would mean that the future general secretary would have to report to Xi, the party chairman. Alternately, Xi could retire from the two top jobs of party general secretary and president but remain chairman of the CMC. There’s some precedent for this: Deng ruled China in the 1980s from his position as chairman of the CMC, and Jiang remained incredibly influential by holding onto that post for two years after he stepped down as president. Moreover, in late 2013, just one year after gaining power, Xi created two super organs at the top of the party — the Central National Security Commission (CNSC) and the Central Leading Group for Comprehensively Deepening Reforms (CLGCDR) — which control the quasi police-state apparatus and economic policy, respectively. If Xi holds onto his chairmanship of the CMC and his two recently created organizations, whoever becomes general secretary of the CCP will likely have to defer to Xi. ^:^

Image Sources:

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Chinese government, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, and various books, websites and other publications.

Last updated September 2021

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