Volume 21 Issue 12 December 2017

Xi Jingping has successfully managed to consolidate his power base, emerging as the most powerful leader of China after Mao. If memory serves right, there was a time when everyone in China had a copy of Chairman Mao’s famous little Red Book but now everyone can easily read the thoughts of Chairman Xi posted on huge red hoardings on the main boulevards.

The Chinese in general believe that Xi’s leadership has played a critical role in bringing a visible change in China during his first term in office. As such, he must continue till he achieves his target of taking the country into a ‘New Era.’ Xi’s predecessors had stepped down after two terms to ensure a systematic transfer of power and smooth transition in the party and the government as they believed that there was no dearth of talented and ambitious leaders. In all probability, contrary to the precedent, Xi may stay in power beyond the usual two terms which now seems quite obvious in view of the changing scenario in and outside China.

Soon after taking over charge, he said, “China's future is bright but its economic challenges are severe and to achieve great dreams there must be a great struggle.” The package approved at the end of the recently concluded five-year congress in Beijing under the banner “Xi Jinping Thoughts on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era,” definitely requires him to continue till the completion of the mission. The package includes a battle against anti-corruption and his signature projects ‘One Belt, One Road’ and CPEC. Continuity of reforms requires continuity of the man behind the vision. Visionaries can see the future and the ability to describe it to the people so that they can also see it and support him. They're the idea people.

Xi has been able to convince the Chinese people that the time has come to enter the new era with a big bang. In his first term in office, he has been able to build an image of ‘man of the people’ because of his commitment to address issues like widening the income gap, problems in employment, education, medical care and other areas - issues directly concerning the common lot. He talks freely to the new generation, telling students that life is like a shirt with buttons where you have to get the first few right or all the rest will be wrong. He doesn’t mind standing in a queue at a bun shop in a downtown market and paying for his own lunch. He has all the charisma of a popular leader and the social media is flooded with posts about Xi, praising him as “mighty Uncle Xi.”

Very much unlike his two predecessors, who come from humble backgrounds, Xi belongs to a group of Chinese elite. His father, Xi Zhongxun, was Mao’s trusted comrade who helped him carry out economic reforms. Obviously the pedigree has given Xi a definite edge, providing him with enough trust and respect among the present ruling elite to continue with his programme with ease and aplomb. Political observers say that his vision appears to have enough or more ability to shape his political legacy to match with the Communist founding father Mao.

To realize his dream, Xi has focused on two critical fronts -wiping out graft and shoring up ideology in an effort to build a clean government. He also wants to build a clean party and have more transparency in the state, judicial and military institutions and to restructure the economy. Such initiatives will further justify his prolonged stay in power. According to Western analysts, a clearer indication that he may continue to stay in power came when Xi introduced China’s new top ruling council, the politburo standing committee at the start of his second term with no obvious successor.

Since the Communist Party of China was founded in 1921, only one leader, Mao


Zedong has been honoured in such a way during his lifetime. A similar enthusiasm among the members was seen on the final day of a week-long political summit in Beijing – the 19th party congress – at which Xi had pledged to lead the world’s second largest economy into a ‘new era’ of international power and influence. In Xi’s world view, China has passed two eras — the revolutionary era launched by Mao and the economic reforms spearheaded by Deng. The Xi era is about making China economically stronger and geopolitically more influential.

Writing in the Financial Times, Australia’s former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd said, “Five years ago I said Xi would be China’s most powerful leader since Deng Xiaoping. I was wrong. He is now China’s most powerful leader since Mao Zedong.” However, Susan Shirk, the head of the 21st Century China Centre at the University of California, San Diego, disputed the portrayal of Xi as an almighty Mao-like figure but admits that he’s ruling differently and people are intimidated by him because of the anti-corruption campaign.

The Chinese Communist Party has voted to put Xi into the same position earlier reserved for Communist Party legends Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping, paving the way for the continuation of his rule in the country beyond the two-term tenure. It also means that he will have new powers for a crackdown on dissent at home, aggressively pursue military moves in the South China Sea and ensure that much of the Chinese economy remains under de facto state control. Xi’s elevation happened during the party’s congress, a weeklong event that occurs once every five years as a way for the party to fill key leadership slots and set national policy priorities. With overwhelming support from the party, Xi has entered the second term of his office with more confidence, more power and more determination.

Commenting on the beginning of Xi’s second term, a noted NGO worker, Wasserstrom said, “While it’s impossible to predict exactly how long Xi will end up staying in power, one thing has become clear: China’s president has just been given quite a bit more power to lead the world’s biggest country. Xi has built a solid political foundation to break away from any convention. Having waged a war against corrupt officials and won official recognition as the party’s “core” leader, Xi is undoubtedly China’s most dominant leader in over three decades.”

Xi Jinping is the first General Secretary to have been born after the Second World War. He became president of China in 2012. He kicked off his term by launching crackdowns on corruption and dissent. According to the BBC, he is a consummate political chess player who has cultivated an enigmatic strongman image. As the leader of the ruling Chinese Communist Party, he has rapidly consolidated power, having his ideas mentioned by name in the constitution - an honour that had been reserved only for Mao Zedong until now. The "Xi Jinping Thought" means that any challenge to the president will now be seen as a threat to Communist Party rule.
Since assuming power, Xi has called for further market economic reforms for governing according to the law and for strengthening legal institutions with emphasis on individual and national aspirations under the slogan "Chinese Dream.”
He has also championed a more assertive foreign policy, particularly with regard to China–Japan relations, China's claims in the South China Sea and its role as a leading advocate of free trade and globalization. Xi has enthusiastically pursued what he has called a "great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation" with his China Dream vision. Under him, China has enacted economic reforms to combat slowing growth, such as cutting down bloated state-owned industries and reducing pollution. All said and done, whether he would still like to continue after the completion of his second term cannot be confidently predicted.

The writer is a free-lance contributor.

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