Having broken nearly every rule in the Chinese Communist Party’s playbook on how to govern, President Xi Jinping now appears poised to break the “seven up, eight down” rule.
That is the guideline that says Communist Party officials can only be promoted until they are 67 and must retire at 68. Xi, 69, has no intention of going anywhere. Although he is not the first leader to break this rule, he is preparing to break another, more important rule by seeking a third term as president.
“We can be almost certain that Xi, as general secretary of the Communist Party, will be appointed for another five-year term,” says Lynette Ong, a professor at the Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy and the author of Outsourcing Repression: Everyday State. Power in Contemporary China.
“Technically speaking, since the term limit was removed, he can stay in power for life. [although] that may require some formal ceremonies after five years.”
Ho-fung Hung, who teaches at Johns Hopkins University’s Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies, said Xi did not rewrite the party’s constitution to remove term limits in 2018 for no reason.
“I would think his goal is to become the leader of China for life,” he said.
Experts hope this weekend’s Congress will cement trends that have been evident since 2013, when Xi began concentrating his power in a norm-breaking way. The China that will emerge from these trends is fundamentally different from the China that began the long rapprochement with the West in the 1980s and 1990s.
Goodbye to the ‘collective management’
After the disastrous Cultural Revolution, which saw Xi’s own father denounced and imprisoned Along with millions of others, the Communist Party underwent a series of reforms designed to prevent another Mao from returning all power to his hands.
Deng Xiaoping began the CCP’s tradition of collective leadership by seeking to empower a seven-member Politburo Standing Committee, where members would debate issues and strive for consensus.
The three main positions in that system (general secretary of the party, president of China, and commander-in-chief of the People’s Liberation Army) were sometimes held by different people.
Even when Jiang Zemin concentrated all three roles in his hands in 1993, he ruled as “first among equals” in a system where other prominent figures carried their own weight. He also gradually stepped down from his duties between 2002 and 2005 and is now retired at the age of 90.
A growing cult of personality
Today, Xi has also assumed all three roles, as well as the title of supreme leader, but he is no longer simply first among equals, Hung said.
“As long as you’ve achieved the consolidation that you’ve been looking for these last ten years, it doesn’t really matter who else is in the Politburo or if there are other factions,” he said.
“People used to pin hopes on some of the relative liberals and technocrats to provide checks and balances to Xi Jinping’s drive to centralize powers and expand the state at the expense of the private sector. But so far we don’t see any of these checks and balances working. counterweights.
“Even if relatively liberal and democratic figures were selected for the Standing Committee, I don’t see them having much clout to stop Xi Jinping. The collective leadership is gone. Now you have Xi Jinping at the helm.”
Ong said that Xi has not yet completely eliminated other voices in the party.
“However, in relative terms, (the collective leadership) has decreased since the Deng era or the reform and opening up in 1979,” he said. “It’s still not like the Mao era, or North Korea. But it’s getting closer.”
A hallmark of the Koreanization of China by the North is the growing cult of personality around Xi. Claims of his miraculous feats are still not as outlandish as those of Kim Jong-Il, whose official biography claimed that he had a perfect body that did not need to urinate or defecate, or Kim Jong-Un, who allegedly learned to drive a car. at three years old.
Instead, Xi is portrayed as a father figure who gives simple advice, as when he allegedly transformed the fortunes of a town by advising them to plant another type of potato —or as a kind of peasant superman who once he carried a hundred kilos of wheat for five kilometers without having to change shoulders.
prince of little roses
Xi’s rise has been marked by the growing social influence of young people ultranationalist keyboard warriors sometimes a more skeptical older generation refers to them as xiao fenhong, or “little roses.”
As little roses patrol the Internet for signs of Western dissent or decadence, the ranks of the foreign service have seen the promotion of aggressive “wolf warrior” diplomats and spokesmen to represent China on the world stage, people like Zhao Lijiang Y Hua Chunyinwho frequently commented on the dispute with Canada involving Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig.
“After Xi has consolidated his power,” Ong said, “we could see a doubling down on East-versus-West diplomacy, presenting the West as an ally against China and Russia, for example.”
Ong said he also hopes for “more coercive diplomacy, tit-for-tat trade boycotts and [a] tougher stance on Taiwan that could have implications for Canada through the Indo-Pacific Strategy.”
Canada has had to recalibrate its approach to China since the days when Prime Minister Justin Trudeau expressed admiration for the Chinese system and tried to reach out to Beijing.
Trudeau initially replaced professional diplomat Guy St-Jacques with an ambassador drawn from the ranks of the Liberal Party, John McCallum. His mandate ended with his dismissal and a great embarrassment for the party.
Then came Dominic Barton, who was also seen by some as too close to Beijing and who was criticized by two former ambassadors for misdescribing long-imprisoned Uyghur-Canadian Huseyin Celil as “not a Canadian citizen.”
Professionals at Global Affairs Canada warned the Trudeau government that its conciliatory approach to China was failing.
Therefore, it was comforting to many in the diplomatic community to see the appointment of a professional career diplomat to the sensitive publication in Beijing.
But while the Trudeau government has been rudely disabused of its once-cheerful views on China, it is unlikely its new ambassador will be able to change the direction of China’s foreign policy, which Hung said is now likely to change. will become more and more antagonistic.
“The trend of China becoming increasingly aggressive is likely to continue, or even accelerate, because in the 1990s and 2000s the legitimacy of the Communist Party was based on delivering economic progress, rapid growth, expanding employment and people’s standard of living…improving incessantly,” he said.
“But starting with the economic slowdown of the 2010s, which worsened over the years, people began to experience a deterioration in living standards and unemployment among young people in big cities.
“So the CCP needs to find a new source of legitimacy, and nationalism is a convenient alternative source of legitimacy. The CCP or the People’s Liberation Army might not feel ready to wage a war like the one Russia did over Ukraine, but at least in terms of rhetoric. and politics, he will be eager to show people that China can defy the will of Western countries and is now the center of the world, or at least Asia, and the United States is no longer in control.”
“The Chinese economy is experiencing structural challenges,” Ong said, “and Xi’s fixation on social stability and zero COVID has made it worse. But he doesn’t seem to pay as much attention to economic problems. For him, control of power and social stability takes precedence over other competing priorities.
Zero Covid, zero population growth
China is to announce its latest GDP figures on Monday. They are now expected to report year-on-year growth of just around 3.5 percent, well below Beijing’s forecast announced in March and well behind the 13.7 percent growth recorded in neighboring Vietnam.
“China’s economic recovery fell short of expectations and shows an overall weak recovery trend,” said a Bank of China analyst note on September 28. China continues to experience problems with the real estate market, corporate borrowing, exports and domestic consumer demand.
The technocrats who helped create China’s export-led economy seem dismayed that the days of more than 6 percent growth are over. “It’s still unimaginable from a strategic perspective that we don’t have this pace,” Jia King, a former director of research at the finance ministry, told a conference last month.
But China’s structural problems run deeper than that. The fertility rate in China is now just 1.15 births per womandespite the end of the one-child rule.
The population, previously expected to peak in 2031 at 1.46 billion, is likely already in decline, according to the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences. The working age population peaked in 2014 and the country’s overall population is projected to more than halve by the end of the century, when the majority of the population over the age of 15 will be over 65.
Aging presidents for life have a poor record when it comes to dealing with complicated challenges like those facing China.
Xi Jinping’s grip on power may be tighter than ever after this weekend, but his long-term plans to make China the world’s leading power look considerably shakier.