China Elite Hand Xi Key Victory, Paving Way for Indefinite Rule

( Bloomberg )

President Xi Jinping delivered the first doctrine on Communist Party history by a Chinese leader in 40 years, giving him a mandate to potentially rule for life as a major meeting wraps up in Beijing.

The approval of the landmark document was announced in a communique Thursday, the official Xinhua News Agency said, as the four-day plenum at a military hotel in Beijing closed. Only Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping have authored a so-called historical resolution, and both went on to dominate party politics until they died. The full text of the resolution hasn’t been released yet.

The Central Committee called on the country to “unite around the party with Xi at the core,” implement his doctrine to strive for party goals set through 2049 and realize “the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation,” the communique said, according to Xinhua.

Getting the group of 400 mostly male party elites, including state leaders, military chiefs, provincial bosses and top academics, to endorse his vision sends a strong signal Xi has the power base to clinch a precedent-defying third term.

Still, the communique also gave nods to the contributions of former leaders including Mao Zedong, Deng Xiaoping, Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao -- an indication that China’s leader had yet to fully eclipse the status of his more recent predecessors among the party elite.

The readout suggested Xi’s resolution was largely backward looking, celebrating past successes without mentioning traumas such as the Cultural Revolution. But it also baked some of his key policies into an important document that is now a pillar of party history, describing Xi as central to meeting goals that look ahead across the next three decades.

On the economy, for example, the communique highlighted Xi’s “common prosperity” drive to curb inequalities and efforts to promote “self-reliance” in science and technology as key goals. It also called on the party to promote “quality” development, a phrase generally used to refer to economic policies that place a lower priority on the speed of economic expansion and higher emphasis on sectors such as high-tech manufacturing.

The communique’s message was that China is “starting the next 100 years in the best possible way -- with President Xi at the core and Xi Jinping Thought as the guiding ideology,” said Frida Haapaniemi, a Beijing-based senior analyst at consultancy Trivium China. She added that it didn’t “signify any kind of shift in policy.”

This week’s event -- the current Central Committee’s sixth full session, or “plenum” -- is one of seven major meetings in China’s five-year political cycle and regarded as the most important. It represented the last chance for horse-trading before the twice-a-decade party congress, which the communique said would be held in the second half of 2022.

‘Pre-eminent Power’

Mao’s doctrine, published in 1945, focused on dismissing political enemies and establishing that only he had the “correct political line” to lead the party, four years before the People’s Republic was founded. Deng’s document weaved a more complicated narrative that condemned the chaos of Mao’s Cultural Revolution without totally discrediting him, and helped clear his own path to power.

“In both cases, the winners, Mao and Deng Xiaoping, used the Central Committee meetings and resolutions to underline the defeat of political opponents and their own pre-eminent power,” former diplomat Charles Parton, a James Cook associate fellow in Indo-Pacific geopolitics, wrote this month in a report for the Council on Geostrategy.

Xi has few political challengers to dismiss. A vast anti-corruption campaign has peeled off rivals over the past decade, meaning no one in the Politburo Standing Committee, the country’s top decision making body, has the age or experience to be a successor.

The document could have global ramifications. Whereas China was a largely sealed-off country with a tiny global financial impact when Mao and Deng dropped their documents, today Xi leads the world’s second-largest economy, one-fifth of its people and one of its most powerful militaries.

With a historical resolution under his belt, China’s most-powerful man will be emboldened to push his “common prosperity” campaign to close the wealth gap and cut dependence on the U.S.

Beijing and Washington are already clashing on everything from tech to trade and the fate of Taiwan, which China considers a breakaway province and has vowed to take by force, if necessary. While the prospect of a war remains remote, the democratically governed island has become the biggest potential flash point between the two sides.

The communique said that Hong Kong had moved from “chaos to governance” under Xi, adding that Beijing had “firmly grasped a leadership role and initiative in cross-strait relations,” referring to its fraught relationship with Taiwan.

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