China’s Communist Party congress: Xi Jinping at the top of the world?

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President Xi Jinping: Credit:


1. What does Xi Jinping want from upcoming Congress of the Communist Party of China and is he going to get it?

2. According to some observers Xi Jinping uses a very personalized style of leadership and he is so undisputed that we might see him ruling the country for more that just 10 years. Could it happen, or probably not, and why?


Jie Chen, Associate Professor, Political Science and International Relations, University of Western Australia

1. Over the past two years or so it has become very clear that Xi Jinping is chasing a personalized leadership, even enjoying some personality cult. No one is still seeing him as merely happy with being first among equals. One certain outcome of the congress is that he will be an undisputed “core leader” of the party, government and the military. This is the sort of clout not enjoyed by his two predecessors, Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao, whose allies have been all removed from power by Xi in the name of anti-graft campaign. Based on the sentiment of the party-state’s propaganda machine, the incoming Congress will confirm that Xi will consolidate his power as the “core” leader, in substance as well as formal titles. However, as to how sustainable he will find his position in the long run is another matter.

2. There are strong indications that Xi intends to influence the politics of the party-state beyond just ten years. The “Xi Thought” is very likely to be included in the new party constitution, and younger leaders (favoured by Jiang and Hu to succeed Xi) have been removed from power. Broadly, the way Xi speaks of China’s future vision – such as “China dream” by 2049 for example – often makes pundits believe that he is determined to become someone like Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping, who are remembered as milestone shapers of national history rather than technocratic implementers of ideas of political giants. However, in what circumstances – and in what formal titles – may we still see Xi as the “core power” in five years? This is subject to speculation. He may manoeuvre along the pathway of Vladimir Putin, or simply groom protégés (he still has time) so he may call the shots behind the scenes beyond the second term, or he may even reformulate the whole apparatus of the party-state in a way beyond what’s speculated at this stage and make himself a near permanent formal leader of the party. Still, I don’t believe that he can easily maintain his position beyond 10 years. His politically repressive, economically centralizing and socially suffocating policies, if maintained, will most unlikely help solve the nation’s mounting crises. Also, Xi has already accumulated many enemies, including both the victims of power struggle in the party and military, and those collaterally damaged businesspeople. These forces may regroup during his next term.

Kerry BrownProfessor of Chinese Studies and Director of the Lau China Institute, King’s College, London

1. Tangible support for the centrality of his leadership and leadership style in the mission of the Party to become a sustainable one party system. So for this Congress, Xi will want to promote both the importance of the mission – sustainable one party rule – and of the tactics he has been central to in trying to achieve this – greater clarity over boundaries in society between the Party and business, more effective discipling of the Party as a political entity through the anti-corruption campaign, etc.

2. It is possible, but we can’t say anything that meaningful about this yet. it will depend on the political circumstances that prevail in 2021-2, when the next congress is due. If at that time Xi is regarded as a success, there might be support for him continuing. But it will be a disruptive and risky move for a party which, since the era of Mao, has been very suspicious about over powerful, perpetual central leaders!

Colin MackerrasEmeritus Professor, Griffith University

1. I think Xi Jinping wants three main things from the 19th CCP Congress. These are a) to get his supporters into the main positions of power and influence within the party; b) to consolidate support for the anti-corruption campaign; and c) to get his main ideology and ideas accepted more formally than at present. These are mainly recognition of his own contribution to the CCP’s ideology, the China Dream and the Belt and Road Initiative.

Will he get what he wants? What I’ve just put down there are fairly comprehensive. On getting his supporters into the main positions of power and influence, yes, I think he will succeed basically. He’s a very sharp operator and knows what he wants.

On corruption, I think he will fall short, but not fail. In other words, there seem to me deep-seated systemic and historical issues that make it very difficult to get rid of corruption altogether. The CCP leaders have been talking about this for ages. It’s not good for any grouping to have its leaders so frightened of being accused of corruption that they don’t dare to take any initiative. And Xi still has plenty of enemies, if not in positions of power, then in society as a whole. On the other hand, it’s still my impression that ordinary people support the anti-corruption campaign.

I also think his China Dream and Belt and Road Initiative have a lot of support, because it appeals to Chinese nationalism, to Chinese sense of worth and identity and to the aim of being more prosperous and taken more seriously within the international community. I think he will largely get what he wants on this. I expect the Belt and Road Initiative to make a huge difference to the Eurasian continent and even beyond over the next half a century or so.

2. I think it’s true that Xi’s leadership is more personalized than was the case under the two immediately preceding leaders, e.g. Hu Jintao and Jiang Zemin. Some observers have compared Xi to Mao Zedong. I actually doubt the validity of the comparison. I think Chinese are less free to express their views than was the case five or ten years ago, but the atmosphere is completely different to the way it was in the 1960s when I first went to China or in the 1970s. And I don’t think it is possible to take it back, because now there are millions of educated Chinese who have lived abroad, especially in the West. I don’t think anybody wants to take it back to anything like those days.  But on the other hand, I believe Xi is quite determined that the CCP will not collapse on his watch.

Will Xi Jinping want to stay on after the next five years? I don’t know, but the signs of his growing power suggest to me it’s not out of the question.

David GoodmanProfessor, Vice President Academic Affairs, Xi’an Jiaotong-Liverpool University, Suzhou

I have no hot line to Xi Jinping but would imagine that he wants several things. One is that some of his political and economic agendas are socialised within the Party leadership. A major issue since 2013 has been the introduction of market forces into the operation of the State sector of the economy. The larger state owned enterprises have been very resistant to reform. Another has been the development of a more democratically responsive cadre force not seen as only being there to feather their own nests. There is though no clear overarching strategy that is currently observable other than the CCP staying in power. That of course cannot change unless there is a major state crisis, so he is clearly able to not worry about that though he may worry about opposition without bureaucracies and the Party, as with the reform of the state sector.

2. Anything can always happen. Many Chinese seem to think this is a Xi Jingping intention. It would not be an unpopular move though it might worry some of the intellectuals and senior leaders who think that there is a more institutionalised ten year cycle of leadership.

Harold TannerProfessor of Chinese History, Department of History, University of North Texas

1. It is impossible for an outside observer to know the specifics of what Xi Jinping wants. The general thrust of his desires, however, is clear. Xi wants, and will get, a continuation of the trends that have characterized his first five-year term as China’s leader: weakening of rival party factions (particularly those associated with Hu Jintao), a scaling back of economic reforms, heightened demands for ideological conformity, a confident , some would say aggressive foreign policy and military posture, an increased centralization of power in the Party Center, and the valorization of Xi himself as a charismatic leader, drawing on, but not reproducing, the cult of personality associated with Mao Zedong.

2. Yes, it is possible that Xi would continue to rule China for more than just ten years, because there are no institutional barriers to the accrual and maintenance of power in the hands of the leader. The Constitution may limit the president to two five-year terms, but the Chinese Communist Party is not known for faithful adherence to the rule of law. A strong leader can change or violate the constitution if need be. Even if the constitution is not changed, Xi could arrange the installation of a compliant acolyte as president (head of state) while maintaining his leadership over the Chinese Communist Party and its Military Affairs Committee. That said, Xi’s position could be undermined by circumstances beyond his control–domestic or foreign policy crises such as an economic meltdown or a disastrous war could weaken Xi and lend strength to rival factions within the Party.




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