Xulio Rios

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2017/01/30Xi Jinping’s Marathon

The race towards the XIX CPC Congress can be compared to a marathon that is experiencing one of its key moments. The mirror of that process is the replacement of mid-high level leaders, either in the central institutions or in the territorial power. In the last weeks, after the sixth plenary of the Central Committee of October last year that elevated Xi Jinping as “leader” of the party’s leadership, there have been significant revelations.


In the upcoming congress that will take place in autumn, at least five of the actual seven member of the Standing Committee of the Political Bureau, the maximum body of power, have to be replaced. The speculations are of double sign. First, the continuity of Wang Qishan, loyal to Xi, leading the anticorruption campaign, should retire for age reasons (69 years old). However, Wang has accumulated a lot of power during the years. His staff has tripled assuming special privileges as their own propaganda or police units. The fight against corruption has served him to create his own faction.


Second, reducing or not the number of members of such body, from 7 to 5 to decrease the weight of Xi’s rival clans. Li Keqiang, Hu Jintao’s protectee, continuity is out of the question, although he cannot repeat the post as Prime Minister, he could preside the National Popular Assembly, the Chinese legislative. The biggest the body, the more difficult it will be to circumvent the meritocracy and on such scale the closest to Hu Jintao are the best positioned. The renewal in the summit will also affect a great number of positions in the Political Bureau and the Central Committee, bodies in which Xi can ensure advantage in order to designate his dolphin (predecessor) in 2032. These are the times in Chinese politics.


Xi Jinping aims to complete in this congress the process of power accumulation that started in 2012, when he assumed the General Secretary. For this he has created diverse committees that he personally chairs and has altered internal rules with the argument of the fight against corruption, the exaltation of loyalty, or the historic opportunity that is the culmination of the modernization period initiated in 1978. All of this has allowed decimating his rival’s steps, particularly the faction close to Jiang Zemin (country leader from 1989 to 2002) but also those close to Hu Jintao. In a recent speech, Xi referred for the first time to some of them as “conspirators”, which it is believed that it is not a harmless struggle to purify the party.


As a novelty, the restructurations in progress – which will continue after the congress- operate under the sign of zero tolerance against electoral fraud, associated with buying votes, a common phenomena within the territorial scope (in 2013 it was discovered that 523 deputies out of 616 had been bribed in Liaoning province).


The names of Hu Chunhua (born in 1963, Hu Jintao’s dolphin) or Sun Zengcai (born in 1963, close to former Prime Minister Wen Jiabao) are listed as the strongest candidates for the Permanent Committee and would personify the crossed designation of the successors, which date back to the XIV Congress of the CPC (1992). Deputy Prime Minister Wang Yang is a strong candidate. The three are members of the Political Bureau but none of them from the same line as the actual Secretary General. That is why Xi has another workforce. Some member include Cai Qi, mayor of Beijing named in October; Huang Kunming, number 2 in propaganda; Chen Xi, number 2 in the organization; He Yiting, number 2 in the Central Party School; Li Zhanshu, Director of General Office of the Central Committee; or Liu He, number 2 of the CNDR. Xi attracts other old collaborators such as Ding Xuexiang (born 1962 and whom he worked with in Shanghai) or Zhong Shaojun (born in 1968 and whom he worked with in Zhejiang). Li Shuli, Chen Min’er or Li Qiang, all of them bordering fifty years old, are firm candidates to relevant positions.


In the midst of all, speculations around a possible commitments from Xi of aspiring to a third mandate operated by the triple track of the recentralized power, reorganization of the state, and the breaking of rules that consolidate the collective leadership in the years of Deng can jeopardize the stability of the CPC, one of the few communist parties in the last decades had accredited some institutional framework to resolve leadership succession problems.


Named Commander in Chief and having an important base in the Popular Liberation Army in process of consolidation in virtue of his broad military reform, Xi could put into place the acquired actives to delay the succession in 2022 with the argument of inexperience, the sensitivity of the moment – indeed crucial to complete the reform- and the fear of electing a leader of Gorbachovian aspiration that could break down the “Chinese Dream”.


The governance of the Party and the State, as well as the management of the economy in a context of increasing international uncertainties, both well known challenges, have as an answer the strengthening of the rule of law and what is called “top level design”, a formula of governance adapted to singularities from each country and which would strengthen the role of the CPC.  However, a revival of the cult to personality and the internal resistances that cause this process suggest steps-down and a few setbacks in what others predict as a triumphant ride.


Xulio Rios is Director of the Observatory of Chinese Politics.


Article published on Observatory of Chinese Politics, 24 January 2017.