Xi Jinping is awarded a place in history, and the Politburo Standing Committee, the seven most powerful men in China, are without an immediate successor to the man at the top. The results of the Nineteenth Congress of the Chinese Communist Party are inviting new speculation and reflections on the future of the country rather than dispelling them. The leader, Xi, arrived at the Congress secure in the strength of his domestic and international popularity, and intending to underscore his position.
He did so, however, by stressing the supreme importance of the Party over everything else, a Party that Xi managed to lead out of a dangerous situation that had developed in recent years. It was a Chinese Communist Party that appeared distant and alien to the Chinese population, because of the many scandals, the impunity that many officials seemed to enjoy, the abuses of power and the obtuseness demonstrated in managing certain social situations.
Of course, we cannot speak of a “crisis of representation,” as we are used to in the West, in a country ruled by a single party, but the symptoms of a crisis of legitimacy and of the loss of popular confidence toward a party that appeared increasingly detached from real life were becoming too risky for the “maintenance of stability” and for ensuring the realization of the “Chinese dream.”
Xi, with an anti-corruption campaign and propaganda in step with the times, together with the push for “moderate prosperity” and for the need to eliminate the pockets of poverty still left in the country, returned the Party to the center of the political, economic and social stage in China, giving it new life and new vigor, and showing that it can still be the axis around which the “revival of the Chinese nation” can be realized.
After this result, which was no small achievement, Xi decided to play his hand, showing that he is able to use his power without abusing it, and, even more, giving it further “historical” weight. Having been awarded the momentous recognition of his own “thought” being added to the constitution of the Communist Party, an honor previously given only to Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping, he first of all presided over Wang Qishan stepping down from the top anti-corruption post, approving his retirement from top leadership.
Furthermore, he allowed the selection of a Politburo Standing Committee that takes into account the diversity of views within the Party, and which is much less monolithic than is often represented.
Not that Xi failed to assert its political weight. The absence of a clear and well-known successor within the Standing Committee, since all the current members are too advanced in age to set their sights on taking the reins from Xi in 2022, makes the current No. 1’s rule particularly strong.
With a successor on the Standing Committee — such as Hu Chunhua or Chen Min’er, the two rumored favorites — Xi risked becoming a lame duck.
In this way, he maintains full, though mediated, control, and can push his idea of “socialism with Chinese characteristics for a new era” without having to deal with elbowing aside a potential successor.
Xi has already demonstrated his ability to bend old customs and pieties. In this case, it has all resulted in a novel situation that, although it can guarantee five years of rule, is potentially not without risks, given the history of the CCP. Speculation is already rampant. The best hypothesis is that Xi will leave the presidency in 2022, having reached the 10th year, but maintain the position of Secretary of the Party beyond that term, naming the “sixth generation” onto the Standing Committee only in 2022.
This is one hypothesis, and there will certainly be more of those over the coming years. What truly matters is the health of the current leadership of the party. The CCP appears to have closed ranks around its leader, and the inclusion of Wang Huning onto the Standing Committee, considered a theoretician and having been an adviser to previous leaders Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao, as well as to Xi himself, shows the restoration, after the age of the technocrats, of the rightful importance of ideology and the control over the Party and Chinese society at a theoretical level. Wang, which The Guardian has already nicknamed “the Chinese Kissinger,” is known for his publications and his studies on “neo-authoritarianism.”
As for the rest, the inclusion of the “New Silk Road” in the constitution of the CCP also shows what China will be like in the next few years: a country firmly established on the international scene, with a solid leadership, secure in the knowledge that it can move with the support of the whole Party. Xi himself, in his speech, used the word “Party” more than any other. Now that his thought has been enshrined in history, Xi can concentrate on keeping alive the political heart of the country of which he is the undisputed leader, projecting it into the future of Chinese life and of the global world order.
Subscribe To Our Newsletter
Your weekly briefing of progressive news.