Whatever their take on events, commentators are united on one clear point: It’s all about Xi.
In truth, it was always about Xi. Throughout his first five year term, and in the run up to the Party Congress, the issue of Xi Jinping’s singular authority, his “Chairmanship of Everything”, was always the focus of international media.
The absence of any heir apparent on the new, elderly Politburo Standing Committee (PSC) has fuelled belief that Xi will stay on beyond the President’s official two-term limit. But really, the addition of Xi and “Xi Jinping Thought” to the Party pantheon makes the succession question irrelevant.
Simply put, opposing Xi now means opposing the will of the Party, and however the leadership transition goes down, Xi will be the man pulling the strings.
So, given that the future of China will be about Xi, Xi, Xi, what does Xi Jinping actually stand for?
Here are five key phrases that we can associate with Xi’s ongoing leadership.
Community of Common Destiny
Chinese foreign policy has become more assertive under Xi Jinping, and Xi will continue to
advocate for China’s global leadership. Expect military modernisation, a growing economic footprint through initiatives like the Belt and Road, and more vocal advocacy of Chinese interests abroad. These will become familiar aspects of Xi’s plan to have China take the lead in forging a worldwide ‘community of common destiny with mankind‘.
The depth and breadth of Xi’s anti-corruption campaign was one of the most notable feature of his first term. Under Xi’s corruption tsar Wang Qishan, the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection (CCDI) has seen its powers expand. Since 2012, the CCDI has netted hundreds of thousands of “flies” (12) and defied conventions on high-level immunity to bag itself several big “tigers”.
During his report to Congress, Xi vowed to secure a ‘sweeping victory in the fight against corruption’, and highlighted corruption as the Party’s principle existential threat, so don’t expect the campaign to let up. The retirement of Wang Qishan and the promotion of Mr. impersonal, Zhao Leji, to his position signals the institutionalisation, rather than the dismantlement of the corruption campaign.
The Principle Contradiction
In his Party Congress report, Xi said that the ‘principle contradiction’ facing Chinese society had changed. This fundamental historical shift justifies the introduction of ‘Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era‘. The focus on ‘unbalanced and inadequate’ growth, rather than a ‘low level of social production‘ also signals that the reform era pursuit of breakneck growth is over.
Economic predictions are difficult, but expect this pursuit of balanced growth to involve Supply-side Structural Reforms and continued state control over the economy.
Wang Huning‘s elevation to the PSC is interesting because he is a major thought architect of “neo-authoritarianism”. Xi’s consolidation of power is part of a major party consensus on the need to combat the decentralising effects of reform and opening up.
China has always had a problem with maintaining the rule of the centre, and Xi Jinping has done more than anyone to reassert Beijing’s authority, but power in China remains ‘fragmented‘. Expect Xi’s efforts to continue. If all goes according to plan, the future will be authoritarian.
For the first time since Deng introduced the goal of creating a xiaokang, or a ‘moderately prosperous society‘, Xi Jinping has set a new timeline and new goals for the Party.
The deadline for creating ‘moderately prosperous society’ is fast approaching. Xi’s personal historical mission is the completion of this goal by 2020, and the beginning of his “first stage” (2020-2035), of making sure that ‘socialist modernisation is basically realised’.