By Air Marshal Dhiraj Kukreja
The sixth plenum of the 19th Central Committee of the Communist Party of China (CPC aka CCP) ended in mid-November after a 4-day session. There were no surprises in the resolution passed by the Party and has dispelled any doubts whosoever may have had, whether in China or abroad, about Xi Jinping’s intentions to vie for a third term next year so as to rule China in the years thereafter.
The resolution, only the third in the 100-year history of the CPC, called Xi Jinping as the ‘helmsman’ and ‘people’s leader’, while underscoring the achievements under his leadership. Analysts are already declaring him greater than the ‘Great Helmsman’ Mao Zedong.
Xi Jinping, the General Secretary since November 2012, also became the Chairman of the Central Military Commission (CMC) at the same time. Ever since, he has manoeuvred his actions, methodically and ruthlessly, to strengthen his hold over the Party, and ensure the allegiance of the cadre towards him.
The latest moves, hence, are no surprise.
His political and historical desires had become obvious when, during the 2017 Party Congress, his ideas were included in the Constitution alongside those of Mao and Deng Xiaoping, and then again during his fiery speech at the centenary celebrations of the CPC.
Inclusion in the Constitution elevated Xi to the exalted status, so far enjoyed only by Mao and Deng.
Xi’s advance towards achieving supremacy has continued unabated throughout the last two years notwithstanding the pandemic. The process of consolidation of power has, in large part included following Mao’s example of the Yan’an Rectification Campaign, similar to the ‘systematic remoulding of human minds’ of the junior members of the CPC. As Mao had propagated, Xi has targeted the lower echelons of the legal affairs bureaucracy and the political machinery.
In addition, he has moved to control the entire security apparatus, more so the local law-enforcement agencies, thus consolidating his authority over the Party to a very large extent.
The fifth plenum of the 19th Central Committee of the CPC had emphasised on the promotion of ‘a new model of international relations’, which as per Xi, spoke of ‘mutual respect’ and ‘non-confrontation’.
To the world, both phrases appeared as the beginning of warm relations with China. In Xi Jinping’s thinking, however, it was the formation of a new order of international relations, where China would lead, and could continue to grow, unhindered by the US.
With the increasing power in his hands, Xi began to give shape to his vision through the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), expanding through East and SE Asia to the African continent and East Europe, and aggressive assertiveness in the Taiwan Strait, East China Sea, South China Sea, and along the boundary with India. Internally too, he took hard-line actions in Tibet, Xinjiang and elsewhere through some harsh policies on censorship and suppression of dissent.
The recently concluded sixth plenum, the last before a new Central Committee is formed at the 20th Party Congress scheduled for late next year, has urged all cadres of the CPC and the citizens of the country to unite around Xi Jinping, hailed as ‘the core’.
The meeting has served to appreciate the contributions of all leaders since Mao, down the line, up to the present, to create this sense of unity. This was felt essential, as in the recent past, contradictions had crept in to some important historical events, including the Cultural Revolution initiated by Mao.
The new version of history, as some analysts call the resolution of the plenum session, is expected to mould the country’s political future as the stage is set for Xi Jinping’s third term beyond 2022.
The plenum document is the third such document, the first one was between 1942-1945 which helped Mao Zedong to cement his control over the Party. The movement formally accepted Mao’s deviation from the USSR ideology while approving ‘Mao’s Thought’ as the guiding principle for the CPC.
The second such resolution was in 1981 under Deng Xiaoping that ushered in major economic reforms transforming China into what it is today.
The third document has placed Xi in the same league of leaders as Mao and Deng, for showing tremendous political courage to face both domestic and international threats while steering China into the 21st century with no one else as strong to pose any challenge.
Thus, the first era of Mao’s political reforms, followed by Deng’s second era of economic reforms, is now succeeded by Xi’s third era, of consolidation.
With the publication of the resolution, the sixth plenum has signalled that Xi Jinping will, in all probability, continue as the General Secretary of the CPC for an unprecedented third term.
Technically, he can, and once again, in all probability, stay on as the country’s President although it is the leadership of the Party that really matters.
Domestically, while the loud propaganda singing his praise may drown out any dissenting voices, his performance will be judged by the society in two crucial areas in the economic domain.
Will Xi Jinping’s economic policies continue to deliver the higher living standards to the growing middle-class, despite his crackdown on the ‘private economy’ of Jack Ma and the likes?
Will China be able to achieve’ Common Prosperity’ in the next decade, or will it be another propaganda sham? Whether this works will be crucial to Xi Jinping’s final report card!
The Chinese people’s connection with the CPC is one of no ‘mutual botheration’. The people are content if their continuously improving living standards are assured irrespective of who rules the country and how.
If for some reason, the country faces a severe economic slowdown causing hardships on the people, the people’s reaction against the political class is anybody’s guess. As it stands today, Xi Jinping holds all the cards and appears to be winning notwithstanding the coronavirus pandemic, the trade war with US and other nations, and slow success of the BRI.
This could, however, undergo a dramatic change, should the GDP continue to drop, as the figures are showing, causing dissatisfaction in the population.
The other important factor in Xi Jinping’s evaluation would be the territorial integration of the country—once known as the Middle Kingdom. Mao Zedong was the first to contribute towards national integration by pushing out the nationalists to Taipei (Taiwan) after winning the Civil War.
The country was unified under communist rule, the distant regions of Tibet and Xinjiang were also brought under central control. Deng Xiaoping repossessed the territories of Hong Kong and Macau thus initiating the process of their integration into the Chinese political system.
Xi Jinping can only reach the status of these leaders, if he is successful in merging Taiwan with mainland China. Increased military activity around Taiwan and also along the border with India is probably a part of a plan to provocatively probe Taiwan’s allies, primarily the US and India’s response.
As Xi’s power grows within China, so will the prospect of coercive military action against Taiwan and even India.
Xi Jinping, in his path to move from collective leadership to a more individualistic, strong-man style, has been able to convince or intimidate other members of the CPC elite to accept him.
History has shown that authoritarian governments cause their own downfall when the dissent within the country rises to critical mass, causing it to explode. An elite reaction could destabilise the system. Poor and delayed decision-making due to a total concentration of power, as is being witnessed, could be a greater risk, not only to China, but also to the world!
Xi Jinping has supposedly secured his position within the country. His ambition as the sole global leader is a totally another issue. The challenges to market democracies posed by China, combined with US’ decline of credibility and influence could start another Cold War-like situation. This situation could be ignited into a hot war, should there be any unplanned or an impulsive action taken in the volatile areas of the seas surrounding China, Taiwan, the Korean Peninsula, or even along the Indian boundary.
Xi Jinping has made himself an emperor, not just to remain within the confines of China’s borders but with ambitions to attain the title of “Emperor of the world”!
–The writer is an IAF veteran. Views expressed are personal and do not necessarily reflect the views of Raksha Anirveda