Xi prepares to tighten grip on power at party congress


China’s Communist Party is gearing up for the upcoming congress that will determine the party’s leadership and overall direction for the next five years, giving President Xi Jinping a golden opportunity to fortify his position for his second term.

The twice-a-decade event is slated to begin Oct. 18, the official Xinhua News Agency reported Thursday. The roughly weeklong meeting will follow a plenary session of the party’s Central Committee on Oct. 11.

Stacking the deck

The Central Committee’s membership — essentially the party’s top 200 or so officials — will be determined at the congress. The party’s highest body, the Standing Committee of the Politburo, will be chosen from among this group at another meeting shortly thereafter.

The current Standing Committee selected in 2012 includes a number of members with ties to Xi’s predecessor, Hu Jintao, and former President Jiang Zemin. This time around, Xi hopes to have his allies fill a majority of seats, which would further solidify his power going into his second term.

Xi, other party elites and retired elders discussed the reshuffle at an unofficial meeting at the seaside resort of Beidaihe in early August. Xi and Premier Li Keqiang are certain to remain on the standing committee, according to a source familiar with the talks. Two Politburo members close to Xi — Li Zhanshu, director of the Central Committee’s general office, and Wang Yang, a vice premier — are likely to join them. The size of the committee may remain at seven members or be cut to five.

Old or new?

Also in question is an unofficial retirement age for senior officials, who typically step down at the next party congress after they turn 68. Since this is only a custom rather than a formal rule, Xi is inclined to change it to let 69-year-old Wang Qishan, his right-hand man and leader of his anti-graft crusade, stay in place. But this may prove difficult to arrange, since Wang has caught flak from some in the party for his role in the anti-corruption campaign.

Chinese presidents are limited to two five-year terms. As Hu began his second term in 2007, he brought younger rising stars, including Xi, into the Standing Committee to gain experience. If Xi goes the same route this year, the most likely candidates for promotion are Hu Chunhua, the party secretary of Guangdong Province, and Chen Min’er, who was named party boss of Chongqing this year.

That said, some contend that with Xi potentially angling for a third term, he will not look to the next generation as his predecessor did. Even if he does, it has been argued, he will not position anyone as a clear successor.

Looking back to Mao

The upcoming congress may also see the party constitution revised to enshrine Xi’s political ideology alongside those of Mao Zedong and other leaders. “The essence of Xi’s series of important remarks and the new governance concepts, thoughts and strategies of the CPC Central Committee” will be thoroughly carried out, the Politburo said in a statement after Thursday’s meeting.

The president has also proposed that the powerful Mao-era post of party chairman be revived.

All of these issues tie into Xi’s push to accelerate the concentration of power in his hands ahead of his second term. The president will undoubtedly come out of the congress stronger to at least some degree, a party insider said. China needs a muscular leader to tackle such issues as slowing growth and severe pollution problems, the thinking goes.

The timing of party congresses has in recent years often been determined toward the end of the preceding August. In 2012, the process was delayed until September amid the fallout of a corruption scandal, with the congress itself not held until November. That the schedule was set in late August as usual this time is proof of Xi’s firm grip on the reins, a diplomatic source said.

Nikkei Asia News


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