Why Chinese President Xi Jinping Must Remain in Power to Survive

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 the top leaders of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).

But Xi has signaled his plan to remain in power for some time yet, and the world expects him to make it official at China’s National People’s Congress in March.

In 2018, Xi scrapped a two-term, 10-year limit for the presidency by amending China’s constitution.

In the run-up to his expected next term, the CCP’s Politburo adopted a historic resolution on Xi’s “common prosperity” – a signature policy to lift people out of poverty.

Only two other historic decisions have been made in China’s 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 build the foundation. for the country’s economic reopening. and political reforms.

The movement not only placed Xi among the three greatest figures in the party’s history, but also showed his ambition by imitating President Mao.

Analysts say all indications are that Xi’s re-election is a given conclusion.

Souvenir plates with portraits of Xi Jinping, Deng Xiaoping, Zhou Enlai and Mao Zedong.
With the historic decision, Xi Jinping has left his mark on Chinese history. (Reuters: Jason Lee)

A potential ‘succession crisis’

The American academic Myron Rush, author of The Khrushchev Succession Problem, wrote: “In any personal dictatorship or tyranny, one thing is certain: one day there will be a hereditary crisis.

“The dreaded day casts a long shadow before, and affects the period of dictatorial rule by expectation.”

The two-term limit was introduced by Deng, who recognized the dangers of one-man rule and personality worship and instead advocated collective leadership.

By removing the border and not appointing a successor, China experts Richard McGregor and Jude Blanchette said: “Xi has strengthened his own authority at the expense of the most important political reform of the last four decades: the regular and peaceful transfer of power.”

“He has pushed China towards a potentially destabilizing inheritance crisis,” they wrote.

Over the past year, CCP members have also expressed concern that the abolition of the duration limit could undermine the principle of collective leadership, which was designed to avoid a situation like the Cultural Revolution under a protracted Mao-like figure.

Members of the Standing Committee of the Politburo, China’s decision-making body, usually retire if they are 68 years of age or older at the party congress, which is held once every five years.

But Xi is not the only member who has exceeded the threshold – the chairman of the National People’s Congress, Li Zhanshu, 71, has also passed the milestone, while China’s Deputy Prime Minister Han Zheng, 67, must reach the threshold in April.

Some former party officials said the age limit for top leadership was introduced by former President Jiang Zheming in the late 1990s to phase out his older rivals.

While Xi removed the term limits, he has promised that he was the “personal opponent” of lifelong rule.

Consolidating power

A key factor for Xi to be able to maintain the reins is his extensive anti-corruption campaign.

The campaign, which was originally intended to solve the long-standing corruption problems in the party, originally helped Xi win popular support from the Chinese people.

But it was later seen as a plan to sweep disagreement away in the party.

As Xi’s anti-corruption campaign continues, and more than 100,000 party officials are already charged, a widespread belief is that Xi will have to remain in power if his defeated rivals retaliate if he resigns.

While China shapes its image as a world superpower, its most powerful leaders betray a kind of fear for their own people.

They continue to limit information through censorship and invest heavily in security resources to quell any disagreement at home.

A close-up of a large group of artists in blue and white uniforms waving CCP flags at the 100th anniversary celebrations.
Under Xi’s leadership, there has been little room for disagreement in China.(Reuters: Carlos Garcia Rawlins)

“This is happening in China because the party first considers the people as enemies,” said Zhang Tan, a former director of a Religious Administration Bureau in the United Front Work Department.

Zhang, now living 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 – the religious beliefs are contrary to the principles of the CCP.

Zhang believes that 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 to seek a third term is more about domestic affairs and nationalism than about foreign policy or China’s diplomatic relations.

In the form of wolf warrior diplomacy, Xi seems indifferent to alienating potential allies and trading partners.

His main political goals are the “reunification” of China and the autonomous island of Taiwan, the settlement of domestic instability in Hong Kong and Xinjiang and the fight against COVID-19.

Taiwan Rally
Territorial sovereignty is a sensitive issue between China and Taiwan.(AP: Wally Santana)

Challenges ahead

China does not have a two-party system or any meaningful opposition to serve as control and balance of power, but the CCP has factions.

But as Xi consolidates his power, some are concerned that a Chinese style of accountability, in the form of rivalry between different camps, will disappear, especially if he uses the same strategy of silencing critics that he has used in his anti corruption campaign.

At the same time, the president is facing one of the most challenging moments in the history of the CCP.

The trade war between China and the United States 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 Asia-Pacific neighbors – including Japan, South Korea, India, the Philippines and Australia – are still simmering.

With China’s economic growth declining to the lowest during the pandemic, Xi’s elevation of “common prosperity” to a political campaign is likely to help secure his political future.

A woman in red coat and hat gets a neck graft.
China’s zero tolerance COVID policy has major consequences for the country’s economy. (AP: Tao Ming, Xinhua)

It aims to crack down on the country’s richest groups, including tech giants, the after-school industry and now the real estate market.

There is a personality cult around Xi and there is no room for criticism.

Every print and news bulletin should use Xi’s directive in their daily headlines, and each city displays his image and propaganda slogans that legitimize his power and message.

In February, Xi will use the Winter Olympics to launch a nationalist campaign and back up to secure another five years in power – in line with a tactic from the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics.

With the National People’s Congress in March, the public can observe more rivalry within the parties, but it is of course unknown whether anyone will challenge Xi, or what the consequences would be for doing so if they failed.

A third presidential term for Xi is not set in stone.

But he will do everything he can to maintain his grip on power – if he does not, he is vulnerable to retaliation and faces an uncertain fate.

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