Xi wins a historic third term as China’s most powerful leader

Xi wins a historic third term as China’s most powerful leader


A somber Xi Jinping strode across the plush red stage at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing and took his place at center stage. A line of men followed silently behind him, falling on either side.

And with that one short, stiff walk, Xi was anointed on Sunday as China’s undisputed leader for five, if not many more years, while concentrating power to a degree not seen since the days of Mao Zedong and defiantly positioning his country against the West.

At the party plenum that followed the end of the twice-a-decade Communist Party congress, Xi introduced his side – the newly elected members of the seven-member standing committee, the pinnacle of party power. Xi is on top.

The Chinese people, led by the party, have put in “sweat and toil” to “pave China’s road to modernization,” Xi said in the speech. “This is a great, but immense undertaking. The enormity of the task is what makes it great and infinitely glorious.”

A week earlier, he opened 20th Congress of the National Party with a triumphant report delivered to more than 2,000 delegates that emphasized the party’s mission to transform China into a socialist superpower and “new choice” for humanity.

Xi Jinping’s quest for total control over China is just beginning

By not stepping down after a decade as general secretary and head of the Central Military Commission, the party’s two most important positions, Xi has reversed norms that previous leaders had hoped would institutionalize peaceful power transitions and prevent a return to one-man rule. The 69-year-old Xi — who abolished presidential term limits in 2018, a sign that he will not follow the unspoken principle — has not named a potential heir.

“There is no conclusion. There are no rules. All the rules have been broken,” said Cai Xia, a former professor at the Central Party School who was expelled from the party in 2020 for criticizing Xi. “There was still resistance before, but this time you can see from his report that the future of China is entirely driven by his will.”

When Xi came to power in 2012, he was seen as a modest pragmatist who some hoped would be a reformer in the vein of Mikhail Gorbachev or at least his own father, the revolutionary leader who helped implement economic liberalization under Deng Xiaoping .

But he decidedly went in a different direction. He called Gorbachev a coward and ordered staff to study the fall of the Soviet Union. The party expanded the surveillance state and oversaw a campaign of mass incarceration in Xinjiang that the United Nations said would they represent crimes against humanity. Authorities have cracked down on Chinese civil society, while lawmakers have imposed draconian national security measures in Hong Kong to quell anti-Beijing protests.

As a supreme leader who demands absolute loyalty, Xi has undermined the system of collective rule as well as power-sharing among factions within the party – conventions the party has perfected since the 1980s to prevent personality cults. He declared a no-holds-barred partnership with Russian President Vladimir Putin shortly before the Kremlin invaded Ukraine in February.

Under the banner of nationalism promoted by Xi, an army of “wolf warriors” seems increasingly willing to flout diplomatic norms in order to appear more patriotic at home. On the permanent commission announced on Sunday, those seven members are his closest allies.

“He will have a third term as a very strong leader. He consolidated power and appointed his own people to the standing committee,” said Jang Zhang, an assistant professor at American University’s School of International Service.

Some signs China is trying to avoid its ‘zero covid’ trap

With the standing committee’s agreement, Xi is overturning the age norm that has largely been in place since the 1990s. Then-party leader Jiang Zemin used the informal limit of 68 to oust senior leaders and promote replacements. Over the next three decades, that trigger drove upheaval at the top of the party. Enough.

Xi is expected to increase his ambitions in his third term, focusing specifically on national securityimprovement of the technological sector in the country i seeking to establish China at the top of the global order.

However, his power is not unlimited. He has to go through a serious zero-covid policy that has crippled the economy and left a large part of the population vulnerable to transmissible omicron variants of the coronavirus.

China’s increasingly combative relationship with the United States and a slowing Chinese economy, exacerbated by rising unemployment and a worsening housing market, will present additional challenges. During his speech at the opening of last week’s congress, Xi warned that the party must guard against efforts to “blackmail, contain and pressure” China and be prepared to weather “dangerous storms”.

With the departure of top economic czar Liu He and former Guangdong provincial party secretary Wang Yang — who were seen as helping to smooth relations with the United States — Xi is likely to adopt a tougher approach to Washington. China is also expected to turn more inward as Beijing renegotiates its relationship with the West.

“Xi Jinping has firmly set China’s economy on a path towards realizing his vision of a state-dominated, self-reliant economy that will continue to engage with the rest of the world, but entirely on its own terms,” ​​said Eswar Prasad, professor in economics from Cornell University.

Still, Xi will face risks in his third term, from divisions within his own group of allies to the dangers of overly centralized power.

“When all the power is in the hands of one person, all responsibility must be borne by that person,” said former professor Cai. “If he makes catastrophic mistakes, it’s not just 1.4 billion people who suffer the consequences of this disaster. This person will also have to pay the price.”

Pei-Lin Wu in Taipei contributed to this report.

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