How Xi Jinping became the most powerful Chinese leader since Mao and what challenges he faces

Experts anticipate that it will be a kind of coronation.

This October 16, the Communist Party of China (CPC) begins its 20th Congress, one of the most important meetings in the history of the formation.

In it, Xi Jinping is expected to receive a third five-year term, thus establishing himself as probably the most powerful Chinese leader since Mao Zedong in the 1970s.

The CCP does not set any term limits. But no leader other than Mao, the founder of communist China, has served a third term in power.

His rise comes after the 2018 constitutional reform, which abolished the two-term limit that existed to hold the country’s presidency, thus opening the possibility that Xi, 69, will remain in power for the rest of his life.

That rule, which had existed since 1982, limited the power of Xi, who is, at the same time, secretary general of the PCCh, head of state and chairman of the Central Military Commission of China, for which reason he directs the country’s Armed Forces.

But not anymore.

During his 10 years in power, Xi has tightened the Communist Party’s grip on all aspects of life in the country and entrenched China’s position as a world economic and military power.

Paradoxically, when he came to power in 2012, few expected him to become a leader without internal checks in the CCP; in fact, it was thought that he would be a reformist and conciliatory leader.

“It’s not going to be a dominant leader like Deng (Xiaoping) or Mao (Zedong). He’s going to have to create consensus among the Party’s leadership,” American journalist and academic Sidney Rittenberg.

It was not so. In retrospect, many experts attribute these misperceptions to the fact that Xi is the son of a reformist historical CCP leader whose footsteps he was thought to follow, and the fact that the current leader was rather discreet about his ideas as he rose through the party hierarchy.

“The two decades that preceded Xi, under Jiang Zeming and Hu Jintao, were decades of collective leadership, of consensus, one might even say, lowest common denominator; and that period spawned tremendous corruption, factionalism, and poor decision-making. Xi Jinping was expected to continue that tradition,” Daniel Russell, who was assistant secretary for Asia during the Barack Obama administration.

“It is ironic that, as a political actor, Xi religiously and carefully followed Deng Xiaoping’s advice to ‘hide the force and bide the time.’ However, when he came to power, he proved not to be the reformer the people might have expected and It certainly didn’t show the kind of continuity that was envisioned,” he added.

But how did Xi become China’s most powerful leader in decades?

Consolidating power

Soon after coming to power, it became clear that Xi was moving away from the collective leadership model that prevailed in China and was establishing himself as the main source of the country’s decisions, Russell said.

“He bypassed and undermined the traditional bureaucratic mechanisms of the state, government ministries, etc., and started creating what they called leadership groups. Groups, with Xi Jinping as chairman, for all important issues and that somehow In this way, they replaced the work of the government and accumulated decision-making in the hands of the party and, specifically, in those of Xi Jinping,” he said.

Al mismo tiempo, Russell destaco que Xi redujo el numero de altos funcionarios en la cima del maximo organo de toma de decisiones, el Comite Permanente del PCCh (formado unicamente por siete personas), y lanzo una campana anticorrupcion cuyos fines reales iban mas alla de castigar esta lacra.

“It was not a campaign for 100 days, as is traditional in China. Nor for six months or even a year, to eliminate the most heinous criminals. It was a mechanism to systematically strengthen his personal power, purging his enemies and creating an atmosphere of fear at the highest levels of the party structure, while gaining the trust of the population,” says the former US assistant secretary for Asia.

Steve Tsang, director of the China Institute at the University of London, believes that this anti-corruption operation was essential for Xi.

“That operation has been absolutely vital to the consolidation of his power and position,” Tsang told.

Tsang affirms that this operation had a double function, since in addition to fighting corruption it was a campaign to ratify the party.

“By putting those two strands together, Xi could use the campaign to get out of the way all the senior party officials who were not following his political line or were not useful to him in other ways,” he said.

“Thus, he was able to consolidate power and, within 5 years, changed the operating system of the Communist Party of China without changing its structure,” he added.

Economy and society

Beyond politics, during his tenure Xi has also consolidated his power over the country by reducing the autonomy of even the most powerful private Chinese companies and subjecting them to the will of the state, which in some cases has caused them great losses.

The zero covid policy has meant an increase in state control over the lives of citizens.

This led to a reduction in the participation of the private sector among the largest companies in the country for the first time in 7 years.

According to the specialized economic medium Bloomberg, at the end of 2021, of the 100 most valuable companies by market capitalization, 49 were private, a decrease compared to 53 in 2020.

The strict regulations imposed by Beijing on sectors such as the internet, real estate and education resulted in the loss of US$1.5 trillion in the value of the shares on the stock market of these companies.

At the same time, and using its zero covid policy, the Xi government has managed to increase government control over the lives of citizens to unprecedented degrees.

Now, thanks to the fact that citizens must constantly register their presence through apps, the State can know precisely and in real time what each person is doing.

Lucy Hornby, a visiting fellow at Harvard University’s Fairbanks Center for China Studies and a veteran former China correspondent for the Financial Times, is critical of these measures taken by the Xi government during the pandemic.

“They bought some time, but they didn’t use it well. They used that time to create a surveillance state, rather than using it to develop vaccines and immunity within their own society,” Hornby told.

A society that favors the strong leader

But while Xi’s concentration of power is viewed critically from the West, perceptions within Chinese society vary.

Xi’s image multiplied in public places ahead of the 20th CPC Congress.

Thus, for example, although the fight against corruption has helped Xi to get rid of political adversaries, it is a cause that has support among citizens.

On the other hand, as Hornby explained, there are many Chinese who consider it important that there is one person who has the last word on issues.

“There’s a big tendency, especially in one-party states, to want to have a single point of decision-making. And, of course, all the Communist Party propaganda for 70 years has always been about having a monolithic party structure, so I think people accept it because that’s the way it is,” he added.

Victor Gao, a scholar at the Center for China and Globalization, a Beijing-based think tank, believes that Xi’s leadership has been good for his country.

“China has never been as united as it is now and this is partly due to the fact that for the past 10 years Xi Jinping has exercised strong leadership within the Communist Party of China, among the Chinese military, as well as in the Chinese government and among the population,” Gao told.

“His fight against corruption in the CCP, among the Chinese military, in the government and in state-owned companies has really changed the way things are done in China,” he said.

Challenges of concentration of power

But the concentration of power does not mean that the problems to be solved disappear and Xi faces a few challenges both internally and externally.

Steve Fang points out that for almost a quarter of a century after the fall of the communist bloc in Europe, the CCP has managed not to make a serious mistake that could destabilize China’s politics, society or economy.

“But that happened because collective leadership allowed for a stable expansion of the scope of closed-door discussions among the top leadership. Xi Jinping changed that in 5 years and had basically turned it into an echo chamber for when he became the strongman, in 2017,” he said.

“Since then, we have a series of policies that are very problematic: the trade war with the United States, the zero covid policy, the repression in Hong Kong, the repression in Xinjiang, support for Russia in the war against Ukraine and the measures against the most important companies in the private sector, in the most innovative area of ​​the Chinese economy in the technology and fintech sectors. Those are Xi Jinping’s policies because he is no longer listening to anyone else,” he added.

Fang claims that Xi sold the zero covid policy as a show of superiority of the Chinese system, at a time when Western societies were hard hit by the disease and under lockdowns, while China was more open until the arrival of the variant. omicron.

Xi Jinping opened the 20th Congress of the Communist Party of China this Sunday defending his zero covid policy.

“The situation has completely changed, Xi simply cannot admit to having made a mistake and therefore China sticks with the zero covid policy, even though there are many people in the Communist Party who have realized that this policy is wrong. and that it is very unpopular in China at the moment,” he said.

Daniel Russell, for his part, believes that having so much power in his hands could eventually turn against Xi.

“If you’re in charge of absolutely everything, sooner or later you’re going to be held responsible for things that go wrong. And when you look at all the problems China is facing today, one wonders if Xi Jinping’s coronation, the 20th Party Congress , may be the zenith of his power,” he said.

In fact, a few days before the start of the Congress, these important challenges were made evident with an unusual protest in the heart of Beijing: a large banner that read “No to covid tests. No to the Cultural Revolution.” , I want reforms. Not lockdowns, I want freedom. Not the leaders, I want to vote. I will not be a slave, I will be a citizen.”

The banner in Beijing last Thursday the 13th.

The claim, which was quickly censored by the authorities, went further, urging society to go directly against the leader, calling him a “traitorous dictator.”

Previous articleBiden releases 15 million barrels of crude reserves to lower the price of gasoline
Next articleThe most famous female astronauts in history