Chinese President Xi Jinping received a significant status upgrade after a Communist Party plenum this week, earning the weighty title of “core” leader. Reuters:
China’s Communist Party gave President Xi Jinping the title of “core” leader on Thursday, putting him on par with past strongmen like Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping, but it signaled his power would not be absolute.
A lengthy communique released by the party following a four-day, closed-door meeting of senior officials in Beijing stressed maintaining the importance of collective leadership.
The collective leadership system “must always be followed and should not be violated by any organization or individual under any circumstance or for any reason”, it said.
But all party members should “closely unite around the Central Committee with Comrade Xi Jinping as the core”, said the document, released through state media.
Xi’s elevation to “core” status—a term first coined by Deng Xiaoping to designate that his authority should not be questioned—is certainly a symbolic victory that will consolidate Xi’s position ahead of next year’s party congress. Nonetheless, it is premature to judge what Xi will be able to do with that ostensible mandate, or if he will seek a third term in 2022, as some are already speculating.
Xi’s victory masks deep rifts within the Communist Party. The plenum’s carefully worded statement gives a clue, balancing the “core” designation for Xi with reassurances that “collective leadership” must be maintained. As FT’s Lucy Hornby notes, some party members fear that Xi’s consolidation of power could return China to authoritarian excess. And public opinion on Xi’s anti-corruption crackdown, which is increasingly seen as a tool to attack his political rivals, has soured.
Looking ahead to the Party Congress in 2017, Xi will need to institutionalize his strong position within the party by assuring his own loyalists get roles in the Politburo Standing Committee, China’s most powerful decision-making body. Five of the seven members of that body will step down in 2017, giving Xi the chance to refresh the ranks with his personal allies.
Xi’s newfound status strengthens his hand, but it will be next year’s Party Congress that will truly determine how strong his authority is—and where he will take China.