China’s Xi Elevated in Party Constitution, Joining Mao, DengBy
Move suggests Xi will influence China policy for decades
Xi ally to exit standing committee in line with party norms
China’s ruling Communist Party approved a revised charter that enshrined President Xi Jinping’s name under its guiding principles, elevating him to a status that eluded his two immediate predecessors.
The new constitution approved Tuesday at the end of the party’s twice-a-decade congress in Beijing listed “Xi Jinping thought on socialism with Chinese characteristics for a new era” alongside the theories of Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping. While presidents Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao also secured contributions to the document, neither was featured by name.
Many of Xi’s major initiatives of his first five years in power were added to the text, from his anti-corruption campaign to his Belt-and-Road Initiative and the army overhaul, described as “Xi Jinping’s strong military thought.” It also included Xi’s call to “let the market play a decisive role” in the economy, a maxim the party first embraced in 2013.
The revisions cement Xi’s rapid consolidation of power, laying the groundwork for him to influence policy in China for decades to come. No Chinese leader since Mao has managed to put his stamp on the party’s prevailing ideology in its foundational document before stepping down.
“It clearly elevates Xi’s status in the party above his two predecessors and puts him on a pedestal on par with historical figures,” said Yanmei Xie, a China policy analyst for the Beijing-based consulting firm Gavekal Dragonomics. “The message is that the party is shifting from collective rule by cookie-cutter technocrats to rule by one charismatic leader.”
On Tuesday, the party congress also selected a new Central Committee including several younger members who could extend Xi’s influence for years into the future. Left off the list, however, was Wang Qishan, 69, a Xi ally who was closely watched to see if he might stay on past the retirement age of 68 and lay the ground for Xi to keep power.
“Xi is now so powerful that he doesn’t need that any more and may prefer not to pay the price for breaking away from this convention,” said Steve Tsang, director of the SOAS China Institute at the University of London.
Every party constitution adopted in the past seven decades has included a statement of the party’s guiding principles. “Mao Zedong thought” was added in 1945, alongside Marxism-Leninism. Deng Xiaoping theory was enshrined in the party constitution posthumously in September 1997, seven months after he died.
The document approved Tuesday at the end of the party’s twice-a-decade congress also vowed to continue “resolutely upholding Xi’s leadership as the party’s core leader.” The moves give Xi greater power to enact policies after a crucial reshuffle on Wednesday, when the party will select a new Politburo Standing Committee, the country’s top political body.
‘Pockets of Discontent’
“Xi Jinping is amassing all of the formal institutional and titular titles associated with supreme leadership,” Elizabeth Economy, director of Asia studies at the New York-based Council on Foreign Relations, said before the vote. “The question to which we do not know the answer to is whether there are significant pockets of discontent within the Chinese leadership and society or whether there is genuine, widespread support for Xi’s path forward.”
Jiang Zemin had his “three represents” adopted in 2002 as he stepped down after 13 years as party chief. Hu Jintao’s “scientific outlook on development” was added as the latest element to the party guiding principles in 2012, also when he retired from the party leadership.
Xi’s theory builds on Deng’s “socialism with Chinese characteristics,” the party’s explanation for introducing capitalism into its communist political structure. By declaring a “new era,” Xi was both acknowledging Deng’s reforms, while seeking to move beyond them.
Central to Xi’s guiding theory was his statement revising the central problem confronted by China’s policy makers. “What we now face is the contradiction between unbalanced and inadequate development and the people’s ever-growing needs for a better life,” Xi told party officials Wednesday.
He listed 14 points as basic focus areas for the new era. They included upholding party leadership in all work, deepening reform, the rule of law, improving people’s livelihood, ecological balance, national security, contributing to global development and maintaining the international order.
— With assistance by Peter Martin