Explained: Xi’s Power Consolidation Ahead of His Historic Third Term
- October 11, 2022
- Posted by: Quatro Strategies
- Category: Politics
Chinese President Xi is poised to secure a historic third presidential term at the Communist Party Congress that is set to start on Oct. 16, cementing the party’s influence across all aspects of China, and placing himself at the core. While the exact make-up of the next Politburo Standing Committee will give clues as to just how much Xi has neutralized what is left of opposing factions, not many expect significant change in direction or approach.
On the contrary, Xi is set to maintain or tighten his control on the party. His concentration of power has seen increasingly dogmatic policies, which have risked unintended results as opposing views and feedback are either discouraged or suppressed.
Those risks include Beijing’s COVID approach, an aggressive diplomacy or a crackdown on China’s once-vibrant “platform” economy, all of which point to an increasingly authoritarian rule.
While some think China may slightly change some policies following the Congress, they expect Beijing to maintain its broad direction in the coming years under Xi.
As there is also an absence of a clear successor, Xi’s rule will likely resume unchallenged but also potentially increases risk the longer he stays in power.
Analysts suggest that Xi’s reluctance to nurture a younger successor and moves to break norms of collective leadership have made China less resilient as it set to face an increasingly uncertain future.
Despite strong headwind, Xi’s power consolidation appears to be unimpeded by challenges that have coalesced in a chaotic year, from a stumbling economy to an increasingly out of step zero-COVID policy and support for Putin.
In his decade at the helm, Xi has prioritized security, expansion of the state’s economic role, a strengthening military, a more assertive foreign policy and intensifying pressure to seize Taiwan.
Xi was considered a safe choice when he was first picked as leader, considered someone who would put the party first and refresh an institution that had deep corruption problems and become less relevant in a liberalizing economy.
Liberals and Western governments hoped Xi may be a reformer, considering his father helped then-leader Deng to adopt China’s landmark reform and opening up when he was Guangdong province party secretary.
But Xi took his party-saving mandate seriously, putting the party squarely back into the centre of life in China, and himself at the centre of the party.
As of April 2022, almost five million party officials have been investigated under Xi, in the pretext of fighting corruption and restoring public faith in the party. Many were purged, including rivals for power. Such moves had the benefit of rooting out political enemies and promoting his own people into newly vacant jobs, while winning public support.
In 2016 he made himself the “core” of the party and in 2018 he ditched the two-term limit on the presidency, clearing the way to rule for life.
Beijing’s official scholars, on the other hand, argue that a country as big and diverse as China needs a strong central authority to get things done and prevent chaos. They like to point out China’s success at poverty alleviation, its efficiency at building infrastructure and the effectiveness at extinguishing COVID outbreaks.
Still, some analysts think while Xi is inclined towards having autocratic power, he may be more compromising in a third term, especially given a growing backlash to zero-COVID policies. With economic problems and the country stuck in zero-COVID, he may have to be more open to different ideas.
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