Xi Jinping has summoned hundreds of senior Chinese Communist Party officials to Beijing for a meeting that is expected to pave the way for his unprecedented bid for a third term in power next year.
The annual autumn meeting, or plenum, of the CPC Central Committee will review and approve a rare “resolution” on Chinese history, coming just four months after Xi presided over a detailed celebration of the party’s centenary.
Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping, the two other transformational leaders of the Party with whom Xi compares himself, obtained such decisions at the beginning of their long periods in power.
Mao was the party’s undisputed revolutionary leader for more than three decades, and he ruled Deng for nearly 15 years, pushing the country away from Maoist self-sufficiency and opening up its economy to the outside world.
Deng used his decision to criticize the final years of Mao’s rule, and to justify his bold new economic programme. But analysts said Xi’s decision will ignore controversial events in the party’s history and present himself as its natural heir, guiding China to its rightful place as a first-class global power by mid-century.
In approving the agenda for the plenum last month, the 25-member Party Politburo alluded to what Chinese officials argue is the historical chain linking Mao, Deng and Xi while ignoring temporary figures such as former presidents Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao. They said that Mao united China, while Deng made it rich and Shi made it powerful.
“The Chinese nation has taken a great leap from standing and getting rich to becoming strong,” said the Politburo. “The great renewal of the Chinese nation has entered into an irreversible historical process.”
Ahead of this week’s plenum, which will conclude on Thursday, state media have been even more extravagant in their praise of Xi, who is now often referred to not only as the party’s chief and general secretary but as “the people’s leader”.
A long article published by the official Xinhua News Agency over the weekend described Xi as “a man of determination and action, a man of deep thoughts and feelings, a man who inherited a legacy but dares to innovate, a man with a forward-looking vision and she is committed to working tirelessly.”
Xi expressed admiration for Mao and rejected many of the institutional reforms that Deng advocated, including a clear separation of party and government roles and a regular transfer of power every decade. He is now widely expected to remain head of party and state for another five to ten years, and the de facto ruler of the country for his entire life.
“Mao is the benchmark for Xi,” said Steve Tsang, director of the Soas China Institute in London. “The resolution will likely cover the entire 100-year term of the party and will offer a more positive assessment of the party – always true if not true all the time, and certainly central to China’s achievements today,” he added.
“In this sense, Xi is setting the stage for his third term – and the beginning of an indefinite period – as a major leader next year,” Tsang said.
The fact that it took nearly a decade to secure an official partisan decision on the date is a sign of how sensitive his attempt to rule for life was, despite the lack of any effective internal opposition.
Wu Qiang, a former lecturer at Tsinghua University and an outspoken critic of the party, said the decision was aimed at “preparing China for more Xi’s personality cult.”
He added, “The decision is about assertiveness. It will turn a blind eye to the negative parts of the party’s history and harm the country. Xi has used institutional and non-institutional methods to centralize all power around him.”
Another potential threat to Xi’s hopes of a smooth transition to a third term is his government’s gamble on a “zero-Covid” policy. This policy essentially closed the world’s second largest economy to domestic and foreign travel and could remain in place even after the Chinese president’s third term in office at the March 2023 session of the National People’s Congress.
“Shi should be aware of the resistance to this approach and thus the desire of some of his ‘companions’.” [for him] To fail spectacularly before [next year’s] Tsang said.
“But someone’s thing [who seems] Worried about isolating China from the rest of the world? Unless he sees a massive economic catastrophe brewing, I’m sure he’s comfortable about restrictions on travel between “Covid-free” China and the rest of the Covid-infested world. “
Additional reporting by Xining Liu in Beijing