By Patrick Baert
Chinese President Xi Jinping, the uncontested leader of the world’s most populous nation, heads a pivotal plenary of the ruling party’s top figures this week that will set the tone for his bid for long-term rule.
From Monday to Thursday, some 400 members of the Communist Party’s all-powerful Central Committee gather in Beijing behind closed doors.
The only such meeting this year paves the way to its 20th party congress next autumn — at which Xi is widely expected to be handed a third term in office, cementing his position as China’s most powerful leader since Mao Zedong.
At this week’s plenary, top figures will debate a key resolution celebrating the party’s main achievements in its 100 years of existence, according to state news agency Xinhua.
Analysts say the resolution, only the third of its kind in the party’s history, will help Xi shore up his grip on power by setting in stone his vision for China, ahead of the crucial 2022 party congress.
Like all meetings of Beijing’s secretive top leadership, the event will be held behind closed doors, and most key decisions are made well in advance.
China’s political meetings are all highly choreographed and open dissent to the official line is extremely rare.
The content has not yet been published in full but the timing of the resolution is key — as was the case with the previous two resolutions.
The first, passed under Mao in 1945, helped him cement his authority over the Communist Party four years before it seized power.
The second, adopted under Deng Xiaoping in 1981, saw the regime adopt economic reforms and recognise the “mistakes” of Mao’s ways.
Unlike the previous two, Xi’s resolution will not mark a break with the past, Harvard University’s Anthony Saich told AFP.
“Rather, it is intended to show that Xi is the natural inheritor of a process since the founding of the party that qualifies him to lead in the ‘new era’,” said Saich, an expert on Chinese politics.
“The purpose is to consolidate Xi as the natural inheritor of the ‘glorious history’ of the CCP,” he added, referring to the Chinese Communist Party.
Saich also said the resolution is likely to mark a step back from Deng’s text in that it will be less critical of the Mao era from 1949 to 1976.
Under Mao’s grip, tens of millions of people starved as the regime sought to force the country into communes.
In the decade leading up to his death, he unleashed the Cultural Revolution, an era of violence that scarred the national psyche.
Under Deng, the party saw a bid to evade a repeat of Mao’s personality cult — if only to ensure continuity of its rule.
According to dissident political scholar Wu Qiang, who lost his job as a lecturer at Tsinghua University in Beijing over his research, the resolution’s approval would mean “that Xi Jinping’s authority is uncontested”.
Wu also believes the plenum will firm China’s path back towards a more “controlled, planned” economy — as seen in Xi’s ongoing drive to regulate the country’s mammoth enterprises in sectors from tech to real estate.
The question of the democratic island of Taiwan — which sees itself as sovereign but which Beijing claims as its own territory — could also be on the meeting agenda.
Regardless of this week’s meeting, Xi’s uncontested authority is not in question, according to Carl Minzner, a senior fellow for China studies at the Washington-based Council on Foreign Relations.
“The core issue is: how much higher might he go?” he told AFP.
“The tone and content of the resolution will likely give some suggestion as to how Xi seeks to be portrayed,” he said.
“As the equal of Mao and Deng? Or merely Mao alone?”
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