‘Man of action’ Xi looks to consolidate power at key meeting

Xi aims to secure the backing of China’s top party leadership as he prepares for an unprecedented third term in office.

President Xi Jinping is seen as the most powerful Chinese president since Mao Zedong [File: Carlos Garcia Rawlins/Reuters]

Chinese President Xi Jinping is expected to further consolidate his leadership at a key meeting of the Communist Party’s Central Committee this week amid a flurry of flattering publicity from state media.

The Central Committee is made up of more than 300 of the party’s top leaders who include provincial governors and party secretaries as well as financial and military elites.

The Beijing meeting, which continues until Thursday, is expected to further pave the way for Xi to secure an unprecedented third term in office at next year’s Party Congress, one of China’s most important political meetings, which is held once every five years.

While the National People’s Congress removed term limits in 2018, enabling Xi to rule China indefinitely, he needs the endorsement of top party leaders, says Tai Wei Lim, a research fellow adjunct at the National University of Singapore’s East Asian Institute.

“[Xi] needs the legitimacy of leading members of the party for an unprecedented additional term, especially when he is not normatively following a term limit convention – convention, not law – in the post-Mao era,” Lim told Al Jazeera.

Xi’s aspirations appear to be to take a place among China’s foremost Communist leaders, including Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping, who steered China through its political and economic reopening in the late 1970s and 80s.

As the child of one of the party’s founding members and the country’s political elite, Xi is known as a “princeling” and since taking office in 2013, he has obtained a cult of personality not seen since Mao was in power.

Earlier this year, the party marked its centenary and the upcoming Central Committee is expected to pass a “historical resolution” reviewing its achievements over the past 100 years, according to Xinhua news agency. The text will also uphold Xi’s “core position” within the party, it said.

The party’s public relations blitz around Xi comes as China faces its internal struggles with a resurgence of COVID-19 cases, an ongoing energy crisis and a teetering real estate sector saddled in debt.

‘One version of history’

The resolution on history and historiography is only the third in the history of the party, noted Adam Ni, a China watcher and editor of the current affairs newsletter China Neican. The first resolution came as Mao consolidated his hold on power, and the second in 1981 when Deng led China’s opening, Ni added.

While historical narratives are important to any government’s hold on power, both the party and Xi have paid particular attention to history as a “legitimating force” in the present and “guide for the future,” he said.

In the past year, the Party has come down hard on “historical nihilism” – an attempt to discuss China’s history from a perspective other than that of the Party – which has seen internet censors remove millions of social media posts.

“Historical orthodoxy is the idea that there is one version of history and that version of history for the Communist Party is the correct version of history. It’s inseparable with legitimacy, with power and with the future,” said Ni.

Chinese President and party leader Xi Jinping, dressed in a Mao-style suit, delivers a speech at an event to mark the centenary of the ruling Communist Party in Beijing in July. Xi is the most powerful Chinese leader since Mao and set for an unprecedented third term in power [File: Li Xueren/Xinhua via AP Photo]

A series of pro-Xi articles published by Chinese state media also included a 5,000-word English-language profile of the president, describing him as “a man of determination and action, a man of profound thoughts and feelings, a man who inherited a legacy but dares to innovate, and a man who has forward-looking vision and is committed to working tirelessly”.

Xi published a monograph of 50 discourses on his leadership of China, according to Xinhua, in a follow-up to “Xi Jinping Thought” that has been enshrined in the constitution and now school curriculums.

The text “establishes Xi as a core leader and perceived by many as the most powerful leader since Mao”, Lim said, adding that it was “written from the perspective of China as a confident superpower under a strongman”.

Source: Al Jazeera