Xi Jinping set to leave his mark on China at the Party Congress

In the coming congress, Xi is expected to enjoy greater influence in promoting his own associates.

October 15, 2017 22:23
4 minute read.
Xi Jinping set to leave his mark on China at the Party Congress

People visit an exhibition displaying China’s achievements over the past five years as part of the celebrations of the upcoming 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China (CPC) at the Beijing Exhibition Center.. (photo credit: REUTERS)


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Chinese President Xi Jinping has set the stage to enshrine himself in the pantheon of Chinese leaders and to put his country on a path of reforms that aim to make it the strongest nation on earth while at the same time placing his allies in key positions in the top ruling body of China at the coming 19th Congress of the Communist Party of China (CPC).

The 19th Congress of the CPC, a once-in-five-years event, is set to open October 18 in Beijing. A total of 2,287 delegates from across the country and all walks of life will convene for about a week to elect a new Central Committee of 200 members. The new Central Committee will elect a new Politburo (currently with 25 members) and a new Standing Committee of the Politburo. This seemingly internal event actually has far-reaching implications, both globally and for Israel.

The CPC boasts 89 million members, making it the largest political party in the world, larger than the entire population of Germany. The focus of the coming congress, the closest China comes to mid-term elections, will be personnel changes, the leadership work report that Xi will deliver summarizing the achievements of the past five years, and changes to party constitution, potentially the most significant of Xi’s moves to enshrine his legacy going forward.

At this “mid-term” congress, both Xi Jinping, concurrently the general secretary of the CPC and the chairman of the Central Military Commission, and the current Chinese premier, Li Keqiang, are both expected to win another five-year term, while the remaining five members of the Standing Committee, the most powerful political organ in China, will retire. This is rooted in the precedent whereby top Chinese leaders must step down when they reach the age of 68. (Xi is 64 and Li is 62.) In the political system of the People’s

Republic of China (PRC), the party is both parallel to and above the government, hence “CPC general secretary” is Xi Jinping’s most important title, in addition to him being the top civilian leader of the military. Xi, the strongest leader China has seen in years, has accumulated additional titles over the past five years, including being named “core leader” of the party, on par with revolutionary leaders like Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping.

One major focus of the congress is naturally selecting the new leadership. The election of a new Central Committee, the Politburo (PB), and a new Standing Committee of the PB is not simply a personnel matter, however, but a test of Xi’s ability to propel his allies to key positions. At the previous party congress in 2012, Xi was named secretary general but was forced to share power with other Standing Committee members that were not necessarily his choice, but rather reflected the influence of previous leaders and party elders.

In the coming congress, Xi is expected to enjoy greater influence in promoting his own associates, although the choice of people who will join the Standing Committee will still reflect the careful balance that is characteristic of Chinese politics.

Thus, names like Chen Min’er, Hu Chunhua, Wang Yang and Li Zhanshu are mentioned as likely candidates to join the top organ of China. Analysts will watch the congress closely to determine which of these younger candidates (most likely Chen Min’er, 57) has the greater chance to succeed Xi when Xi retires at the end of his 10-year term in 2022. This is similar to the elevation of Xi himself to the standing committee in the previous “mid-term” congress back in 2007.

Equally significantly for Xi, the congress is expected to approve changes to the party constitution. The changes will likely enshrine what is called “Xi Jinping Thought,” including Xi’s main slogan – the Chinese Dream of rejuvenating the Chinese nation. That is the goal of building a moderately prosperous society by 2021, centennial of the founding of the Communist Party of China, and building a strong and prosperous China by 2049, centennial of the establishment of the People’s Republic of China.

Xi is the son of Communist veteran Xi Zhongxun, who was once purged by Mao. If he manages to get his “Xi Jinping Thought” officially included in the party constitution, it will put him put him on the same level as revolutionary leaders Mao and Deng. (Previous Chinese leaders Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao did not win this honor). It will also ensure that Xi’s legacy continues to guide the development of China for the next 30 years.

The CPC Congress bears significance beyond simply Chinese internal politics. Throughout the past five years, Xi launched a heretofore unseen anti-corruption drive that swept over 1.4 million party officials, according to state media. At the congress, Xi will aim to ensure that the new political lineup follows his lead in enacting the necessary reforms.

While China has been very successful in pulling hundreds of millions out of poverty and becoming the world’s second-largest economy, it doesn’t lack challenges that need urgent address. From a slowing economy to a large internal debt, from environmental challenges to party and military reform, China’s leadership has its work cut out for it.

From Israel’s point of view, Xi’s signature foreign policy move – the Belt & Road Initiative, or the New Silk Road, which aims to connect Asia and Europe through a network of infrastructure and investment links – is a good opportunity to not only boost its own economy, but also forge more new connections across Asia. No matter who emerges as China’s prospective new leader, Israel and China will continue strengthening their win-win relationship.

The author is the founding director of The Chinese Media Center (CMC) at the School of Media Studies of The College of Management Academic Studies, Rishon Lezion, and a senior adviser to the Silk Road Group.

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