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Just The Start Of A New Xi Era


Xi Jinping’s new era truly has begun. If anyone still has any doubt that he will dominate Chinese politics in the years to come, the historic resolution adopted by a top leadership meeting which ended on Thursday has provided the glowing theoretical justification for his continued reign.

It may be called the Resolution on Major Achievements and Historical Experiences of the Party over the Past Century but it is less about history than Xi’s era, with senior officials mincing no words in emphasising that it is all about “resolutely upholding Comrade Xi Jinping’s core position” in the Communist Party, state, and military.

A communique released after the sixth plenum of the Communist Party’s 19th Central Committee urged the country to rally behind the party, with Xi at its core, to realise his vision of national rejuvenation.

As the resolution casts Xi as a helmsman, elevating his status on par with Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping, it paves the way for him to seek a historic third term as party chief and state president in 2022 and 2023, respectively. Not only that, Xi’s hold on power and his influence over the course of the country are expected to last even longer, judging by the communique and explanations of senior officials.

At the time of writing, the leadership has not released the full text of the resolution – but the communique has given a summary of the salient points.

In the party’s parlance, the words “historic resolution” carry special political significance and implications. Previously, only twice in the party’s 100-year history had its leaders adopted a document of this kind to resolve historical issues at critical junctures and build a new narrative to unite it around chosen leaders and their visions.

The first was passed in 1945 and guided by Mao Zedong, establishing his authority and marking a break from Stalinist influences which would ultimately enable the party to come to power in 1949. The second resolution was orchestrated by Deng Xiaoping, who repudiated Mao’s extreme leftist policies. It united the party’s thinking around his policy of reform and opening up, paving the way for China to become an economic powerhouse.

In many ways, the previous two resolutions were aimed at cutting ties with the past and learning the lessons of history. But the third is more forward looking. It merely uses the party’s history as a backdrop to bolster Xi as the helmsman who will lead the country forward.

At a press briefing on Friday, senior party officials were keen to point out that the third resolution was deliberately oriented to highlight China’s achievements in the nine years since Xi came to power in late 2012.

Wang Xiaohui, a top propaganda official, said the resolution had allowed existing assessments of Xi’s predecessors, including Mao, Deng, Jiang Zemin, and Hu Jintao, to stand. The sensitive topic of the bloody crackdown on student demonstrations in 1989, which once divided the party leadership, is unlikely, therefore, to be revisited.

In language evoking memories of the accolades heaped on Mao at the height of the Cultural Revolution, Jiang Jinquan, another senior party official, said on Thursday that Xi’s status as “the core of the party”, “people’s leader” and “commander of the military”, along with his political philosophy known as “Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with the Chinese Characteristics for a New Era”, would ensure China’s future success.

Since coming to power, Xi has rapidly consolidated power through an unprecedented anti-corruption campaign and by strengthening the party’s controls at all levels of society. He established his political authority in 2016 when he was designated the “core” of the party, and in the following two years, he had the party charter and state constitution changed to eliminate the term-limit for presidency and to include his thought as the party’s guiding principle. In 2017, after merely five years in office, he declared that he was leading China into a new era – amid speculation of resistance within the party. The passage of this new resolution means any such opposition to building up his personal authoritarian brand has been quashed.

What will happen next? The party’s leadership is set to launch a nationwide indoctrination campaign exhorting study of the resolution and absolute loyalty to Xi not only among its more than 95 million members, but ordinary citizens as well. The campaign is expected to last for a long time to come. Since 2017, Xi’s thought has already been woven into the national psyche, with his remarks written into textbooks for students from primary level to university, and party members required to log into mobile apps daily to study them. And the campaign to promote the resolution will further define Xi’s leadership as the most important feature of Chinese politics in the years to come.

Moreover, the resolution provides the political foundation for Xi to seek a third term at the party’s 2022 congress next autumn, at age 69, and possibly a fourth term in 2027 at age 74.

The resolution’s ratification is unlikely to signal any significant change in China’s policies, as Xi has set the policy direction for everything from the economy to foreign affairs for the past nine years. State media have relished in highlighting the phrase “changes not seen in a century” to describe the domestic and external challenges that justify Xi’s dictatorial leadership in steering China forward. Conversely, the phrase also illustrates the scale and multitude of challenges facing Xi, including China’s worsening relations with the United States and its Western allies as well as its difficult transition to a quality-led economic growth.

While Xi has taken credit for every major achievement China has made over the past nine years, he will have to bear the sole responsibility for any mishap in future.

In the end, no matter what politically exalted position he occupies, he will have to deliver to confirm the legitimacy of his rule – or risk losing the confidence and support of the people.

Courtesy – SCMP

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