Wednesday, February 08, 2023 | Rajab 16, 1444 H
few clouds
weather
OMAN
22°C / 22°C
EDITOR IN CHIEF- ABDULLAH BIN SALIM AL SHUEILI

Xi secures historic third term as China's leader

Beijing - Xi Jinping secured a historic third term as China's leader on Sunday and promoted some of his closest Communist Party allies, cementing his position as the nation's most powerful leader since Mao Zedong.


The Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party elected Xi as its general secretary for another five-year term, Xinhua reported, tilting the country decisively back towards one-man rule after decades of power-sharing among its elite.


"I wish to thank the whole party sincerely for the trust you have placed in us," Xi told journalists at Beijing's Great Hall of the People after the closed-door vote was announced.


He promised to "work diligently in the performance of our duties to prove worthy of the great trust of our party and our people." Xi was also reappointed as head of China's Central Military Commission.


The 69-year-old is now all but certain to sail through to a third term as China's president, due to be formally announced during the government's annual legislative sessions in March. His anointment came after a week-long Congress of 2,300 hand-picked party delegates during which they endorsed Xi's "core position" in the leadership and approved a sweeping reshuffle that saw former rivals step down.


The 20th Congress elected the new Central Committee of around 200 senior party officials, who then gathered on Sunday to elect Xi and the other members of the Standing Committee -- the apex of Chinese political power. Some of Xi's closest allies were announced in the seven-man committee. Former Shanghai party chief Li Qiang, a confidante of Xi's, was promoted to number two, making him likely to be named premier at the government's annual legislative sessions next March. Since becoming the country's leader a decade ago, Xi has achieved a concentration of power like no modern Chinese ruler other than Mao.


He abolished the presidential two-term limit in 2018, paving the way for him to govern indefinitely. Xi has also overseen China's rise as the world's second-biggest economy, a huge military expansion, and a far more aggressive global posture that has drawn strong opposition from the United States.


Despite nearly unchecked power, Xi faces huge challenges over the next five years, including managing the nation's debt-ridden economy and the growing US rivalry. - Contemporary China - Sunday's vote brought to an end a triumphant week at which China's top brass hailed their leadership of the country over the last five years. In his opening speech to its 20th Congress last Sunday, Xi lauded the party's achievements while glossing over domestic problems such as the stalling economy and the damage inflicted by his harsh zero-Covid policy.


Heavy on ideological rhetoric and light on policy, a defiant Xi also urged party members to steel themselves against numerous challenges including a hardening geopolitical climate. Analysts had closely watched for whether the party charter would be amended to enshrine "Xi Jinping Thought" as a guiding philosophy, a move that would put Xi on a par with Mao.


That did not take place, though a resolution did call the creed "the Marxism of contemporary China and of the 21st century", adding that it "embodies the best Chinese culture and ethos of this era". - Hu led away - In an unexpected move that punctured the proceedings at Saturday's Congress closing ceremony, former leader Hu Jintao was led out of the hall.


The frail-looking 79-year-old seemed reluctant to leave the front row where he was sitting next to Xi. State media reported late Saturday that Hu had insisted on attending the session despite being unwell. "When he was not feeling well during the session, his staff, for his health, accompanied him to a room next to the meeting venue for a rest.


Now, he is much better," Xinhua said on Twitter, a social media platform that is blocked in China.


When Xi Jinping took power in 2012, some observers predicted he would be the most liberal Communist Party leader in China's history, based on his low-key profile, family backstory, and perhaps a degree of misguided hope.


Ten years later, those forecasts lie in tatters, proving only how little was understood of the man who is now China's most powerful ruler since Mao Zedong after being handed a historic new five-year term on Sunday.


Xi has shown himself to be ruthless in his ambition, intolerant of dissent, with a desire for control that has infiltrated almost every aspect of life in modern China. He has gone from being primarily known as the husband of a celebrity singer to someone whose apparent charisma and aptitude for political storytelling have created a personality cult not seen since Mao's day.


The colorful details of his early life have been rinsed and repackaged in official party lore, but the man himself -- and what drives him -- remain somewhat more of an enigma. "I dispute the conventional view that Xi Jinping struggles for power for power's sake," Alfred L. Chan, author of a book on Xi's life, told AFP. "I would suggest that he strives for power as an instrument... to fulfill his vision." Another biographer, Adrian Geiges, told AFP that he did not think Xi was motivated by a desire for personal enrichment, despite international media investigations having revealed his family's amassed wealth. "That's not his interest," Geiges said. "He really has a vision about China, he wants to see China as the most powerful country in the world."


Central to that vision -- what Xi calls the "Chinese Dream" or "great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation" -- is the role of the Communist Party (CCP). "Xi is a man of faith... for him, God is the Communist Party," wrote Kerry Brown, author of "Xi: A Study in Power". "The greatest mistake the rest of the world makes about Xi is to not take this faith seriously."


- 'Traumatised' - Xi might not seem an obvious candidate to become a CCP diehard, though he grew up as a "princeling", or member of the party elite. His father Xi Zhongxun was a revolutionary hero turned vice premier, whose "strictness toward his family members was so serious that even those close to him believed it bordered on the inhuman", according to the elder Xi's biographer Joseph Torigian.


But when Xi Zhongxun was purged by Mao and targeted during the Cultural Revolution, "(Xi Jinping) and his family were traumatised", said Chan. His status vanished overnight, and the family was split up. One of his half-sisters is reported to have killed herself because of the persecution. Xi has said he was ostracised by his classmates, an experience the political scientist David Shambaugh suggests contributed to a "sense of emotional and psychological detachment and his autonomy from a very young age".


At just 15, Xi was ordered to the countryside in central China where he spent years hauling grain and sleeping in cave homes. "The intensity of the labour shocked me," he later said. He also had to take part in "struggle sessions" in which he had to denounce his father. "Even if you don't understand, you are forced to understand," he said, describing the sessions to a Washington Post reporter "with a trace of bitterness" in a 1992 interview. "It makes you mature earlier." Biographer Chan said the experiences of his youth had given him "toughness". "He tends to go for broke.


He tends to use a two-fisted approach when he approaches problems. But he also has a certain appreciation of the arbitrariness of power and that's why he also emphasizes law-based governance."


- Systematic, low profile - Nowadays, the cave Xi slept in is a domestic tourist draw, used to emphasize traits such as his concern for China's poorest. When AFP visited in 2016, one local painted a picture of an almost legendary figure, reading books between breaks in hard labor "so one could see he was no common man". That does not seem to have been obvious at the time though.


Xi himself said he was not even rated "as high as the women" when he first arrived. His application for CCP membership was rejected multiple times because of the family stigma before it was finally accepted. Beginning as a village party boss in 1974, Xi climbed to the governorship of coastal Fujian province in 1999, then party chief of Zhejiang province in 2002 and eventually Shanghai in 2007. "He was working very systematically... to get experience by starting at a very low level, in a village, then in a prefecture... and so on," said biographer Geiges. "And he was very clever by keeping a low profile." Xi's father was rehabilitated in the late 1970s following the death of Mao, massively boosting his son's standing.


Following a divorce from his first wife, Xi married superstar soprano Peng Liyuan in 1987, at a time when she was much better known than him. Even so, his potential was not apparent to all, exemplified by comments made by his host on a trip to the United States in 1985. "No one in their right mind would ever think that that guy who stayed in my house would become the president," Eleanor Dvorchak was quoted as saying years later in the New Yorker magazine.


Cai Xia, a former high-ranking CCP cadre who now lives in exile in the United States, believes Xi "suffers from an inferiority complex, knowing that he is poorly educated in comparison with other top CCP leaders". As a result, he is "thin-skinned, stubborn, and dictatorial", she wrote in a recent article in Foreign Affairs. - 'Heir of the revolution' - But Xi has always regarded himself "as an heir of the revolution", said Chan. In 2007, he was appointed to the Politburo Standing Committee, the party's highest decision-making body.


When he replaced Hu Jintao five years later, there was little in Xi's past administrative record that foreshadowed his actions once installed as leader. He has cracked down on civil society movements, independent media, and academic freedoms, overseen alleged human rights abuses in the northwest Xinjiang region, and promoted a far more aggressive foreign policy than his predecessor. In the absence of access to either Xi or any of his inner circle, scholars are left to survey his earlier writings and speeches for clues to his motivations.


"The absolute centrality of the party's mission to make China a great country again is evident from Xi's earliest recorded statements," wrote Brown. Xi has harnessed that narrative of an ascendant China to great effect, using nationalism as a tool for his own and the party's legitimacy among the population. But there is also evidence he fears that his grasp on power might decline. "The fall of the Soviet Union and of socialism in eastern Europe was a big shock," said Geiges, adding Xi blames the collapse on its political opening up. "So he decided that something like this shall not happen to China... that's why he wants strong leadership of the Communist Party, with one strong leader."


Xi Jinping said "the world needs China" as he spoke to the press after securing a historic third term as a leader on Sunday. "China cannot develop without the world, and the world also needs China," Xi said. "After more than 40 years of unflagging efforts towards reform and opening up, we have created two miracles -- rapid economic development and long-term social stability."


SHARE ARTICLE
arrow up
home icon