Xi Jinping set to pass last hurdle in bid for power to reshape China
In his first five years, Chinese President Xi Jinping has seized control of economic policy, reasserted the Communist Party’s authority and sidelined potential rivals in an unprecedented anti-corruption campaign. Now, he’s set to make the Xi era permanent
Beijing/Singapore: In his first five years, Chinese President Xi Jinping has seized control of economic policy, reasserted the Communist Party’s authority and sidelined potential rivals in an unprecedented anti-corruption campaign.
Now, he’s set to make the Xi era permanent.
In a two-week session starting Monday, China’s rubber-stamp parliament is expected to enact sweeping legislative changes that would allow Xi to rule indefinitely and give him greater control over the levers of money and power. The agenda includes repealing presidential term limits, creating a powerful new agency to police officials and possibly approving the biggest regulatory overhaul of the $43 trillion finance-and-insurance sector in 15 years.
Xi is also reportedly planning to use the annual meeting of the 3,000-member National People’s Congress to install allies in key government posts, including the vice presidency, the central bank governorship and dozens of minister-level positions. It’s unclear when exactly specific decisions will be announced.
As the undisputed ruler of one-fifth of humanity, Xi is arguably the world’s most powerful leader. US President Donald Trump is battling investigations, Germany’s Angela Merkel is nursing a fragile coalition and Russia’s Vladimir Putin is struggling under sanctions. Xi, meanwhile, laid out a 30-year plan in October for a “New Era” that completes China’s restoration among the world’s great powers.
“The others are managing countries for a while—he’s trying to build a new one,” said Andrew Gilholm, a director at the consulting firm Control Risks. “He’s got vastly more freedom of action than Trump and Merkel, a vastly stronger economy than Putin, but also probably a more daunting job than any of them—higher expectations.”
The changes are so sweeping they might be seen as a turning point, Gilholm said, with Xi “remaking the party-state with himself at the center.”
The changes leave Xi with sole responsibility for China’s $12 trillion economy, mounting debt pile, more aspirational middle class and growing overseas interests. He’s attempting to become a developed economy without loosening political control, staking the party’s legitimacy on its ability to make China rich and strong.
While Xi’s new power might provide reassurance to investors who believe that bureaucratic resistance has slowed his reform agenda, risks could mount over time. Centralized control by one man could become a problem should his health fail or subordinates hesitate to question bad decisions from the top.
Since coming to power five years ago, Xi has renewed emphasis on Communist Party orthodoxy and launched intense campaigns to reign in corruption and dissent. A plan to repeal the president’s two term-limit—announced Sunday by the party’s Central Committee—represents a formal break from succession practices set up by reformer Deng Xiaoping to establish growth and stability after Mao Zedong’s turbulent tenure.
‘Absolutely unrestricted leader’
Deng established the succession framework after the 1989 Tiananmen democracy protests, when he purged former Chinese Premier Zhao Ziyang as party chief and named China’s next two leaders. Repealing presidential term limits was “an important measure for perfecting the system of the party and the state,” the party’s People Daily newspaper said in commentary published Wednesday, citing the lesson of the Soviet Union’s collapse.
“The Deng Xiaoping era is over,” Bao Tong, who worked alongside Deng as the top aide to Zhao, told Bloomberg Sunday. “It no longer exists.”
Bao said the main goal for lawmakers was to ensure that Xi “becomes an absolutely unrestricted leader.” He declined further comment Tuesday, saying “relevant departments” had visited his home and told him not to speak to the media or attend public gatherings until after the legislative session.
At the meeting, lawmakers are also expected to appoint Xi to a second term as president and amend the constitution to insert Xi’s name and political philosophy alongside Mao’s and Deng’s. That follows a similar change to the party charter in October, when Xi secured a second term as party chief.
Seeds of turmoil
In addition, the legislature is expected to approve a replacement for outgoing central bank governor Zhou Xiaochuan, as well as the merger of the China Banking Regulatory Commission and the China Insurance Regulatory Commission, Bloomberg News reported. Such a shift would mark the biggest overhaul of China’s financial and insurance sector since the current banking regulator was created in 2003.
Lawmakers will also likely establish a powerful law enforcement and ethics commission to police millions of public servants, party officials, academics, journalists and state company managers. The body would expand the mandate, powers and legal basis of the party’s main anti-graft watchdog, which has already punished an unprecedented 1.5 million cadres as Xi made corruption a signature issue.
Although constitutional amendments require approval from two-thirds of the National People’s Congress, that’s not seen as an obstacle: Lawmakers have never rejected a government proposal, and Xi has enacted strict loyalty rules for officials. Last year, Premier Li Keqiang reaffirmed Xi’s leadership a record seven times in his opening address, and dissenting votes sunk to their lowest level in more than a decade.
Still, the proposal to repeal term limits prompted unusually open expressions of dissent. Li Datong, a former senior editor at the official China Youth Daily newspaper, wrote a public letter to urge China’s legislators to oppose the move. Li said the move made China vulnerable to repeating the power struggles of past eras.
“It planted the seeds for China to once again fall into turmoil,” Li wrote. Bloomberg
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