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Wednesday, February 21, 2024

Why Xi Jinping’s iron grip will only tighten during the upcoming 20th Party congress in China

China goes into its once in five years huddle on October 16. The Great Hall of the People in Beijing — an imposing heavily pillared Soviet style structure, within the eyeline of the famous Tiananmen Square — will be the venue of the 20th Party Congress of the Communist Party of China (CPC).

Every five years at the Party Congress the General Secretary of the CPC, in this case Xi Jinping, will present a work report — a thematic summing of the lofty achievement, real or otherwise, of the previous five years. It is also an occasion to declare the strategic goals of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) for the next five years or more. For instance, at the 19th Party congress which took place in October 2017, Xi loudly declared that the PRC will pursue what he described as — two centenary goals. By 2022, marking 100 years of the formation of the CPC, China would become a “moderately prosperous” society, Xi said. This meant that the PRC would eliminate extreme poverty countrywide. For statisticians, it entailed doubling the PRC’s GDP with 2010 as the base.

The second centenary goal was the realisation of the “Chinese Dream” of turning China into a world leader in all aspects of human endeavour, ranging from military, economy and culture. This was to be achieved by 2049, a year marking 100 years of the formation of the PRC, when the CPC led by Mao Zedong had established complete control over China, through what has been dubbed as the “people’s revolution”.

The 20th Party congress is expected to connect the dots, and unveil practical incremental steps for the next five years to help achieve the grand strategic goals framed by the second centenary goal.

During the course of the 20th Party Congress, Xi is expected to further consolidate his hold over the 86 million strong CPC by handpicking a new leadership line up.

This will be achieved through the formation of a new Central Committee where Xi’s loyalists will dominate, though others from rival factions, such as the Communist Youth League, will also be included. This minority co-option from the rival camp is necessary to soften and manage the internal opposition within the party ranks. Currently the Central Committee comprises 205 full members and 171 alternate members, that is a pool from where vacancies in the full-member core can be filled during the course of five years, whenever required.

From the 200 plus feedstock of the Central Committee, Xi will handpick the more important and powerful politburo, comprising 25 members. Finally, he will skim a standing committee of the politburo, comprising China’s top leaders. With Xi at the helm, China will be ruled by 7-9 people, including the General Secretary of the CPC.

Who will comprise the new Standing Committee of the Politburo?

This is anybody’s guess but few important names are circulating in CPC circles. So far, there has been an unwritten rule that Standing Committee members retire after attaining the age of 68, but with Xi rewriting the script, this template may no longer be cast in stone.

Some of the prominent names to watch out for, who could become part of the standing committee include Hu Chunhua among others. Of course, Hu’s inclusion will partly depend on whether Xi, who has turned 69, wants to groom a successor, form a youngish pool at some point, possibly, after 2027, when the 21st Party Congress would be due.

Hu is not exactly Xi’s favourite. He has been part of the Communist Youth League (CYL) — the habitat of many of the “princelings” or second-generation leaders of the PRC helmsmen — a group that Xi has not been particularly fond of. Chinese Premier Li Keqiang, whom Xi has heavily side-lined, belongs to the CYL. Hu to his credit has served in Tibet, and is part of the 25-member Politburo.

Then there is 62-year-old Chen Min’er. Xi has chosen him in the past as a firefighter. He was moved from the poverty infested Guizhou province to the lucrative Chongqing, where in 2017 he replaced the city’s powerful party boss, Sun Shanghai, who was once considered the President’s rival. Chien also is part of the so-called Zhejiang faction, composed of Xi loyalists. Xi had once served as the party secretary of Zhejiang province and many of his lieutenants have been drafted into positions of power because of that legacy.

Others to look out for are the 60-year old Ding Xuexiang. He has been Xi’s chief of staff and the two go back to 2007 when they worked together in Shanghai during an anti-corruption drive.

China watchers are also focusing on 63-year-old Li Qiang, a somewhat controversial party secretary of Shanghai because of pursuing a draconian anti-Covid approach. But chances of being elevated to the hallowed circle remain as, apart from other attributes, he belongs to the pro-Xi Zhejiang faction.

The name of Xi’s propaganda chief Huang Kunming is making the rounds among Beijing’s chatterati as the Party congress nears, which in the end, could spring many surprises.

(The story has been published via a syndicated feed.)

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