In theory, 2022 should be the year of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s retirement.
After turning 68 in June last year, Xi reached the usual retirement age for top leaders of the Communist Party of China (CCP).
But Xi has announced his intention to stay in power for some time to come, and the world expects him to make it official at China’s National People’s Congress in March.
In 2018, Xi removed a two-term, 10-year limit on the presidency by amending China’s constitution.
Looking ahead to his scheduled next term, the CCP’s Politburo passed a historic resolution on Xi’s “common prosperity” – a signature policy to lift people out of poverty.
Only two other historic resolutions have been made in Chinese history – the first by former leader Mao Zedong in 1945 to consolidate leadership to create modern China, and the second by Deng Xiaoping after the Cultural Revolution to lay the foundations for the economic reopening of the country. and political reform.
The move not only positioned Xi among the three greatest figures in party history, but also showed his ambition by emulating Chairman Mao.
Analysts say all signs seem to point to Xi’s re-election being a foregone conclusion.
A potential “succession crisis”
American scholar Myron Rush, author of The Khrushchev Succession Problem, wrote: “In any dictatorship or personal tyranny, one thing is certain: one day there will be a succession crisis.
“This dreaded day casts a long shadow ahead, influencing the period of anticipatory dictatorial rule.”
The two-term limit was introduced by Deng who recognized the dangers of one-man rule and the cult of personality and instead espoused collective leadership.
By removing the limit and not naming a successor, Chinese experts Richard McGregor and Jude Blanchette said, “Xi has consolidated his own authority at the expense of the most important political reform of the past four decades: the smooth and peaceful transfer of to be able to “.
“He pushed China toward a potentially destabilizing succession crisis,” they wrote.
Over the past year, CPC members have also expressed concern that abolishing term limits could undermine the principle of collective leadership, which was designed to avert a situation like the Cultural Revolution under a longtime Mao-like figure.
Members of the Politburo Standing Committee, China’s decision-making body, typically retire if they are 68 or older at the Party Congress, which is held once every five years.
But Xi is not the only member to cross the threshold – National People’s Congress Chairman Li Zhanshu, 71, has also crossed the threshold, while Chinese Vice Premier Han Zheng, 67, is expected to reach the threshold in April.
Some former party officials said the age limit for top leaders was introduced by former President Jiang Zheming in the late 1990s to phase out his older rivals.
Although Xi removed term limits, he promised he was “personally opposed” to lifelong rule.
Consolidation of power
A key factor for Xi to maintain the reins is his extensive anti-corruption campaign.
Initially intended to address longstanding corruption issues within the party, the campaign initially helped Xi win the popular support of the Chinese people.
But it was later seen as a plan to sweep away dissent within the party.
As Xi’s anti-corruption campaign continues and more than 100,000 party officials have already been indicted, a widely held view is that Xi must stay in power in case his defeated rivals retaliate if he steps down.
As China shapes its image as a global superpower, its most powerful leaders betray a kind of fear of their own people.
They continue to restrict information through censorship and invest heavily in security resources to suppress any dissent at home.
“This happens in China because the party sees the people as the enemy first,” said Zhang Tan, former director of the Religious Administration Bureau of the United Front Work Department.
Zhang, who now lives in Australia, reported to the party’s Central Committee in the 1980s and 1990s.
He voluntarily ended his political life after becoming a Christian in the early 2000s – religious belief is contrary to CCP principles.
Zhang believes China is still an “empire,” where the law is used to consolidate and protect the power of the “emperor” — in this case, Xi.
Xi’s political mission in his pursuit of a third term is more about domestic affairs and nationalism than China’s foreign policy or diplomatic relations.
In the guise of wolf-warrior diplomacy, Xi doesn’t seem to mind alienating potential allies and trading partners.
Its main political goals are the “reunification” of China and the self-governing island of Taiwan, the settlement of domestic instability in Hong Kong and Xinjiang, and the fight against COVID-19.
China does not have a two-party system or a meaningful opposition to serve as checks and balances on power, but the CCP does have factions.
However, as Xi consolidates his power, some fear that a Chinese-style accountability in the form of rivalry between different camps will disappear, especially if he uses the same strategy of silencing critics that he does. he deployed in his anti-corruption campaign.
At the same time, the president is facing one of the most difficult times in the CCP’s history.
The China-US trade war and the impact of the pandemic on the country’s economy could further shake people’s faith in the party’s leadership.
The country’s tensions with its neighbors in the Asia-Pacific region – including Japan, South Korea, India, the Philippines and Australia – are still ongoing.
As China’s economic growth has fallen to an all-time low during the pandemic, elevating Xi’s “common prosperity” in a political campaign is likely to help secure his political future.
That means cracking down on the nation’s wealthiest groups, including tech giants, the after-school education industry, and now the real estate market.
There is a cult of personality around Xi, and no space for criticism.
Every print media and newscast must use Xi’s directive in its daily headlines, and every city displays his image and propaganda slogans that legitimize his power and message.
In February, Xi will use the Winter Olympics to fuel a nationalist campaign and build support to secure another five years in power, echoing a tactic from the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing.
With the National People’s Congress in March, the public could observe more rivalry within the party, but of course it’s unclear whether anyone will challenge Xi, or what the consequences of such a failure would be if he failed. .
A third presidential term for Xi is not set in stone.
But he’ll do whatever he can to maintain his grip on power – if he doesn’t, he’s vulnerable to retaliation and faces an uncertain fate.