Xi galvanising support ahead of 20th CCP meet
If US-China relations don’t deteriorate into a clash in the South China Sea or over Taiwan, major obstacles to Xi securing a third term at the upcoming 20th Party Congress could emerge only from within the CCP
With problems mounting on the economic and foreign policy fronts and barely five months to go before the crucial 20th Party Congress in November, Chinese President Xi Jinping has redoubled efforts to bolster his image inside China. His control of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) Central Committee (CC)’s powerful propaganda apparatus is facilitating his efforts to portray himself as the Chinese communist leader who made “original” contributions to Chinese communism and is steering the country through difficult times. Equally, if not more, important is his firm grip on the security apparatus and the important CCP CC organisation department that maintains dossiers on CC members and is involved in their postings and promotions.
Contrary to recent rumours that Xi has lost ground, yielding space to Premier Li Keqiang, the official media has continued to feature the Chinese president more frequently and prominently than any other CCP leader. In fact, Li had announced on March 11 that he will be stepping down as premier at the 20th Party Congress.
Since mid-May, China’s official media publicised seven public appearances by Xi, including at the centenary celebrations of the Communist Youth League (CYL) on May 11. The official People’s Daily has consistently given Xi prominence and the Guangming Daily has been bolstering Xi’s communist credentials. On May 23, China’s authoritative news agency, Xinhua, launched 50 episodes of online short films on Xi.
Lured by the prospect for advancement and confirming that Xi is very powerful, senior provincial party cadres are lining up to pay obeisance to Xi and his “qualities of leadership”. The plenary meeting of the 13th CCP Guangdong Provincial Congress under the stewardship of its party secretary Li Xi on May 22, for example, declared that Guangdong “was able to write a new chapter in the reform and development of the new era under the complex and severe situation” only because “the authority of Xi Jinping, the general secretary of the Communist Party of China, has been established as one and the final word!” Politburo member and party secretary of Guangdong, Li is in Xi’s camp and is an aspirant for elevation to the Politburo Standing Committee and the job of vice-premier, if not premier.
Similarly, the Guangxi Daily (May 18) reported that the third plenary meeting of the 12th CCP Committee of the Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, held in Nanning on May 17, emphasised to its cadres that they must “always support the leader, defend the leader, follow the leader!”
Separately, a report in Hong Kong’s politically neutral Chinese language newspaper Ming Pao on May 23 claimed that the 20th Party Congress would designate Xi as “lingxiu” in addition to the “core” of the CCP. Mao Zedong was the last Chinese communist leader to be called lingxiu, a reverential term for “leader”. The Politburo, at its first meeting after the 19th Party Congress, had in a statement said: “General Secretary Xi Jinping is the party’s well-deserved lingxiu, supported by the whole party and loved and esteemed by the people.”
More than a dozen political and military leaders had used the title to refer to Xi during the Party Congress, reflecting a consensus among the party elite to place Xi Jinping above all his predecessors, except Mao.
Xi has also used the security apparatus to guard against surprises and reinforce his position. During Covid-19 in 2020, the Chinese Institutes of Contemporary International Relations, a think-tank of China’s ministry of state security, observed there was a global surge in anti-China sentiment because of the pandemic and forecast a bleak economic outlook for the coming year. A PLA Daily article echoed these views and highlighted that the United States (US) could use China’s tense domestic situation to fan social upheaval and provoke social conflict. Sensing the spreading dissatisfaction, including in senior party echelons, Xi set up the “Safe China Construction Coordinating Small Group” in April 2021 to “prevent and crack down on activities that endanger the political security of the country”. Reports indicated that it was also decided to increase monitoring of top leaders and “get them used to working and living under monitoring”.
If US-China relations don’t deteriorate into a clash in the South China Sea or over Taiwan, major obstacles to Xi securing a third term at the upcoming 20th Party Congress could emerge only from within the CCP. While discontent within the CCP echelons is evident, it is uncertain whether the “elders’ would risk opposing Xi.
Jayadeva Ranade is former additional secretary, Cabinet Secretariat, Government of India and is presently president, Centre for China Analysis and StrategyThe views expressed are personal