BEIJING—Chinese President Xi Jinping emerged from a top-level Communist Party conclave with a new leadership title, signaling an expansion of his political authority—and his ability to smother simmering dissent.
Roughly 350 top party officials concluded a four-day meeting Thursday by declaring Mr. Xi as the “core” of the party’s leadership, using a designation conferred upon the country’s most exalted leaders, including Mao Zedong, but not Mr. Xi’s immediate predecessor.
The new designation suggests Mr. Xi has strengthened his grip over Chinese political life as the 89-million-member party heads into a potentially fractious year of bargaining over a new leadership lineup to be determined later in 2017.
During his first four years as head of the party, Mr. Xi has been named commander-in-chief of the military and used an anticorruption campaign to shake up the bureaucracy, cashier rivals and amass power. A result, however, has been discord within the party elite over management of a slowing economy and unease over Mr. Xi’s concentration of personal power.
“Xi seems to have amassed sufficient political capital to set himself rhetorically on a par” with his most powerful predecessors, said Daniel Leese, a professor of Chinese history and politics at Germany’s University of Freiburg. “Collective leadership thus by now seems to be no more than a facade, with Xi’s predominance clearly established.”
During the meeting, held at a military-run hotel in western Beijing, the party’s Central Committee bolstered Mr. Xi’s authority by adopting stricter disciplinary rules that reinforce his anticorruption campaign, including new directives on acceptable political behavior and stronger supervision.
In a lengthy statement issued at the end of the closed-door meeting, the Central Committee emphasized the importance of Mr. Xi’s new designation as the leadership’s “core.”
All party members should “closely unite around the party center with Comrade Xi Jinping as the core… and unswervingly safeguard the party leadership’s authority and centralized unity,” according to the communiqué, which was carried by state media.
Since becoming party leader in late 2012, Mr. Xi has concentrated more power in his hands than his recent predecessors, upending the consensus-driven, collective leadership that has prevailed in recent decades.
A chief tool in Mr. Xi’s consolidation of power has been the anticorruption drive, in which the president has empowered the party’s discipline-inspection agency to target officials who resist the central leadership or waver in their loyalties.
While trying to exert greater control over the party, Mr. Xi has also sought to expand China’s influence abroad, turning it into a true global power. His government, though, has made only fitful steps in trying to restructure a flagging economy, weighed down by excess industrial capacity and corporate debt. Progress has been impeded partly by resistance from large state industries and by officials nervous about making decisions amid the corruption crackdown.
While the new designation as “core” leader boosts Mr. Xi, some political scientists said his authority isn’t undisputed and high-level resistance to his leadership is unlikely to fade.
“He has not established himself as a strongman, at least not yet,” said Steve Tsang,professor of contemporary Chinese studies at the University of Nottingham. “Xi is in a good position…but he is not in a position to dictate the direction” of next year’s party congress, where he must compete with rivals to place allies in top posts.
The “core” designation—previously applied to Mao, Deng Xiaoping and Jiang Zemin—was something that eluded Mr. Xi’s predecessor, Hu Jintao, whose decade as party chief is seen by critics as a period of indecisive leadership that allowed corruption, income inequality and environmental woes to worsen, even as the economy thrived. These problems convinced some in the party elite to seek a stronger, more decisive leadership, paving the way for Mr. Xi’s rise.
Early this year, senior officials in several provinces began to refer to Mr. Xi as the “core,” in what some political analysts saw as a trial balloon. The designation disappeared amid criticism from some party members, who were unsettled by Mr. Xi’s growing dominance and feared it signaled a shift toward the dictatorial style that marred Mao’s tumultuous rule.
The notion resurfaced this month, when a party-run magazine said Mr. Xi should be hailed as the “core” of the party leadership, arguing that a strongman leader is critical to China’s rise as a great power.
In hailing Mr. Xi’s new status, the party’s flagship newspaper, People’s Daily, portrayed it as crucial in guaranteeing the party’s leadership as it faces “a great struggle with many new historical characteristics.”
The move, People’s Daily said, “reflects the common desire of the entire party, entire military and people of every ethnicity.”
Write to Chun Han Wong at email@example.com
Communist party bestows new title on president, putting him in a more powerful position before the 2017 congress
China’s president, Xi Jinping, has rapidly consolidated his power. Photograph by Aly Song, AFP, Getty
China’s Communist party has given the president, Xi Jinping, the title of “core” leader, putting him on par with previous strongmen Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping, but signalled his power would not be absolute.
A lengthy communique released after a four-day meeting of senior officials in Beijing emphasised the importance of collective leadership. The system “must always be followed and should not be violated by any organisation or individual under any circumstance or for any reason”, the party said.
But all members should “closely unite around the central committee with comrade Xi Jinping as the core”, said the document, released through state media.
The core leader title marks a significant strengthening of Xi’s position before a key party congress next year, at which a new standing committee, the pinnacle of power in China, will be constituted.
Since assuming office almost four years ago, Xi has rapidly consolidated power, including heading a group leading economic change and appointing himself commander-in-chief of the military, though as head of the central military commission he already controlled the armed forces.
While head of the party, the military and the state, Xi had not previously been given the title “core”.
Deng coined the phrase “core leader”, and said he, Mao Zedong and Jiang Zemin were core leaders, meaning they had almost absolute authority and should not be questioned. Xi’s immediate predecessor, Hu Jintao, was never called the “core”.
The plenum meeting paves the way for a congress, held every five years, in autumn 2017, at which Xi will further consolidate his power and which could indicate who may replace him at the 2022 congress.
A new standing committee, which currently has seven members and is the pinnacle of power in China, will be announced at the congress.
Zhang Lifan, a Beijing-based political commentator, said now that Xi was the “core”, things should go more smoothly for him at next year’s congress. But he would have more on the line, given his increased responsibility to answer for economic and social problems facing the leadership.
“If the economy continues to go downhill and the rifts in society become more serious, the responsibility of the core is greater,” Zhang said. “Your relative power and authority are greater, everyone is deferring to you. But they will be watching to see if your leadership is good or bad.”
An unofficial campaign to name Xi the “core” has been under way this year, with about two-thirds of provincial leaders referring to him as such in speeches, according to figures compiled by Reuters, before the plenum formally accorded him the title.
Steve Tsang, professor of contemporary Chinese studies at the University of Nottingham, said that although Xi remained in a strong position, there was still a year to go before the congress. “There’s still a lot of unanswered questions. Will his successor be named? Will Xi get a third term?”
Judging by recent past precedent, Xi should step down at the 2022 congress after a decade at the top, but speculation in leadership circles has swirled that he may try to stay on, perhaps giving up the post as president but remaining as party leader, the more senior of the posts.
Chinese Communist Party expands Xi Jinping’s political power, anointing him ‘core’ leader
The South China Morning Post
President’s elevated status will enable him to exert more influence on reshuffles at the top at next year’s party congress
Friday, October 28, 2016, 12:23am
Members of the Central Committee vote during their sixth plenum in Beijing this week. Photo: Xinhua
With his new core status, Xi is expected to play a more dominant role in orchestrating next year’s reshuffles – a sharp contrast to Hu’s position 10 years ago.
Next year’s congress will see the election of more than 300 full members and alternate Central Committee members. Up to 11 seats on the 25-strong Politburo will also be vacated, including up to five members of the seven-member Politburo Standing Committee who are expected to retire.
Unlike the official title “general secretary”, the term “core” and its powers are not defined by party regulations.
The Chinese Communist Party graft-buster’s big shot at a lasting legacy
Beijing-based political commentator Zhang Lifan said the new reference meant Xi was guaranteed to have unchallenged authority in the party.
“It means Xi has the final veto power. It’s the official crowning of his real power,” Zhang said. “It also means the end of the last ‘core’, Jiang Zemin. There can’t be two cores in the party.”
It means Xi has the final veto power. It’s the official crowning of his real power
Jiang, 90, is widely believed to have exercised influence in mainland politics since his official retirement in 2004 and has been seen in public recently.
But Zhang said Xi’s crowning moment also comes with uncertainties. “It’s unclear if all senior leaders will obey him and it would mean more responsibility for him, including the downward economic pressure and rising social conflicts,” he said.
The communiqué also singled out members of the Central Committee, the Politburo and the innermost Politburo Standing Committee as the prime targets for the new conduct rules, making it clear that senior cadres would be judged on whether they toed the line on party positions.
Senior cadres must not fudge their stand on fundamental matters
“Senior cadres must not fudge their stand on fundamental matters, must not waiver on their political stance, must not be affected by incorrect ideology,” it said.
It said no organisation or individual was above party discipline and the party strictly forbade anyone from bargaining with the party or disobeying its decisions.
To stem corruption, the party would address election fraud and end the buying and selling of official posts and vote rigging.
Leading officials were banned from using their positions to seek benefits for friends and family, it said.
On the party’s internal political life, the statement said the party would unswervingly continue its collective leadership system and the senior leadership had to consult party members on major policies.
The communique said a Central Committee full member and three alternate members had been expelled from the party, while two alternate members had been promoted to full members.