Xi Jinping 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 party’s central committee’s annual fall meeting, or plenary, will review and approve a rare “resolution” on Chinese history, coming just four months after Xi’s extensive celebration of the 100th anniversary of the founding of the party.
Both Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping, the party’s two other transformation leaders with whom Xi compares himself, gained such resolutions at the beginning of their long tenure in power.
Mao was the party’s undisputed revolutionary leader for more than three decades and Deng ruled for about 15 years, sending the country away from Maoist autarchy and opening its economy to the outside world.
While Deng used his resolution to criticize the later years of Mao’s rule and justify his daring new economic program, analysts said Xi’s resolution would ignore controversial episodes in the party’s history and portray him as their natural heir, leading China to its rightful place as a first-class world power by the middle of the century.
With the approval of the plenary’s agenda last month, the party’s 25-member politburo referred to what Chinese officials claim the historical continuum Mao, Deng and Xi bond while disregarding interim figures such as former presidents Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao. Mao, they said, united China, while Deng made it rich and Xi made it strong.
“The Chinese nation has ushered in a great leap from rising up and getting rich to becoming strong,” the Politburo said. “The great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation has entered an irreversible historical process.”
Ahead of this week’s plenary session, which concludes on Thursday, the state media were even more exuberant in their praise of Xi, who is now often referred to not only as president and party’s general secretary, but “the people’s leader”.
A lengthy article published this weekend by the official Xinhua news agency calls Xi “a man of determination and action, a man of deep thoughts and feelings, a man who inherited a legacy but dares to innovates, a man with a forward-looking vision and is committed to working tirelessly ”.
Xi made clear his admiration for Mao and rejected many of the institutional reforms advocated by Deng, including a clearer separation of party and government roles and a regular transfer of power each decade. He is now widely expected to remain party and head of state for another five to 10 years, and the country’s de facto ruler for as long as he lives.
“Mao is the benchmark for Xi,” said Steve Tsang, director of the Soas China Institute in London. “The resolution will probably cover the entire duration of the party’s 100 years and will project a much more positive assessment of the party – almost always right if not right all the time, and certainly central to China’s achievements today,” he said. added.
“In this sense, Xi is creating the scene for his third – and beginning of his indefinite – term as top leader next year,” Tsang said.
The fact that it took Xi almost a decade to get an official party resolution on history is a sign of how sensitive his attempt at lifelong rule remains, despite the absence of any effective internal opposition.
Wu Qiang, a former lecturer at Tsinghua University and outspoken party critic, said the resolution was intended to “prepare China for even more of Xi’s personality cult”.
He added: “The resolution is about self-affirmation. It will turn a blind eye to negative parts of the party’s history and will damage the country. Xi used institutional and non-institutional methods to centralize all power around himself. ”
Another potential threat to Xi’s hopes for a smooth transition to a third term is his government’s gamble on a “zero Covid” policy. The policy has essentially closed the world’s second largest economy after incoming and outgoing travel and could remain in place until after Xi was sworn in for his third presidential term at the March 2023 session of the National People’s Congress.
Xi should be aware of resistance to this approach and therefore a wish among some of his ‘comrades’ [for him] spectacular to fail just before [next year’s] congress, ”Tsang said.
“But is Xi someone [who seems] worried that China will be cut off from the rest of the world? Unless he sees a huge economic disaster brewing, I’m sure he’s relaxed about the restrictions that apply to travel between ‘Covid-free’ China and the rest of the Covid-infected world. ”
Additional Report by Xinning Liu in Beijing