Chinese President Xi Jinping speaks during the opening of the 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China. Photo: Reuters
Chinese President Xi Jinping speaks during the opening of the 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China. Photo: Reuters

The week-long 19th Congress of the Communist Party of China (CPC) concluded as anticipated, with party Secretary General Xi Jinping emerging considerably stronger. His contribution to Chinese Communist ideology was recognized and unanimously approved for incorporation into the Party Constitution as “Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era”.

He is the first CPC leader to have his contribution, attached to his name, enshrined in the Party Constitution while still alive. This places it next in heft to those of Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping, especially with the Chinese media already starting to headline it as “Xi Jinping Thought”.

The approval by the 19th Party Congress to the appointment of many Xi loyalists, who now constitute the majority of the membership of the Politburo Standing Committee (PBSC), the Politburo, the CPC Central Committee (CC) Secretariat and the Central Military Commission (CMC), underscores the unmistakable – and anticipated – enhancement of Xi’s authority and influence.

Pertinent in this context are the revelations by China’s official media in the weeks before the 19th Party Congress of the successes achieved by the campaign against corruption and, on the sidelines of the Congress on October 20, by Liu Shiyu, chairman of the China Securities Regulatory Commission, who said Xi had “saved socialism” by bringing down high-ranking officials who intended to “usurp the party leadership and seize state power”, and described Xi as a “savior of the Communist Party”. Liu has since been promoted to the CC.

The affiliations of the new leaders appointed to the PBSC, whose total number remains at seven, are interesting. The composition of the new PBSC shows that while Xi has followed the party’s informal rules and conventions regarding the retirement age of senior-echelon cadres, he has avoided inducting younger cadres who could be potential successors in the PBSC.

The field is open for Xi to continue in office as, which some of his acolytes have been saying since 2013, China enters a new 30-year era like those of Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping earlier

The field for advancement to the next PBSC and as successors to Xi and Li Keqiang as president and premier respectively have, therefore, been left wide open for the younger cadres now in the Politburo. The field is open too for Xi to continue in office as, which some of his acolytes have been saying since 2013, China enters a new 30-year era like those of Mao and Deng earlier.

The new Politburo has only 24 members, as against 25 previously. Apart from the seven PBSC members, among the remaining 17 Politburo members Xi also has a clear majority. At least 12 of them are longtime Xi loyalists, not including the two vice-chairmen of the Central Military Commission (CMC), who are also very close and longtime associates of Xi. Some of the Politburo members are poised to take over as heads of central party organizations. They all owe their rise to him.

Equally important is the CC Secretariat, which has in the past five years under Xi become a powerful body. It reports directly to him. He has packed the important new seven-member CC Secretariat with loyalists, and Wang Huning is its senior-most member.

The previous 18th CC Secretariat was headed by Liu Yunshan, who also, like Wang is now, was in charge of ideology, the propaganda apparatus and party organization. Three of the Secretariat’s members are persons with a background in security or the military, namely Yang Xiaodu, Guo Shengkun and Huang Kunming. The indication is that CPC controls on these sectors will continue to become progressively tougher.

At least two members of the new CPC CC Secretariat have a background in Tibet affairs. In addition to Wang Huning, who has in the past been a member of Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) delegations to the National People’s Congress, these are Yang Xiaodu, a “sent-down youth in the Cultural Revolution” and until recently minister of supervision, who served in the TAR from 1976-2001, and Guo Shengkun, who as the minister of public security attended meetings of the Leading Small Work Group on Tibet.

Huang Kunming, another member of the Secretariat, has served in the People’s Liberation Army. As anticipated, TAR party secretary Wu Yingjie has been promoted to the new 19th CC as a full member. In addition, this time there are two ethnic Tibetans, Qi Zhala and Luosang Jiangcun, as full members of the CC, one more than in the previous CC.

Sun Chunlan, who was head of the CPC CC United Front Work Department and handling Tibet affairs, continues as the solitary woman in the Politburo despite being 67 years of age, which actually puts her in the retirement zone. Interestingly, Zhang Qingli, who was born in 1951 and earned a reputation as a hardline TAR party secretary for his derogatory comments about the Dalai Lama, continues as a full member of the 19th CC.

Zhang Yijiong, the present executive deputy head of the UFWD and vice-minister, who on the sidelines of the 19th Party Congress outlined China’s new strong policy toward the Dalai Lama, has been promoted from alternate member of the 18th CC to full member of the 19th CC. Both Zhangs will have a strong say in Tibet policy.

The new Central Military Commission consists of military officials who are all solid supporters of Xi Jinping. The composition and size of the  CMC have also changed. For the present it ha only four members and does not include the heads of the different services, such as the PLA Air Force (PLAAF) and the PLA Navy (PLAN).

The two CMC vice-chairmen, former PLAAF Commander Xu Qiliang and PLA General Zhang Youxia, are both “princelings” with longtime associations with Xi. Zhang Youxia’s father Zhang Zongxun fought alongside Xi’s father, and they were called “partners in blood”. Zhang Youxia fought in the Sino-Vietnam war in 1979.

The presence of Xu Qiliang, Zhang Youxia and PLA Rocket Force Commander Wei Fenghe in the CMC point to an emphasis on the development and acquisition of modern, advanced defense technology. The induction of General Li Zuocheng, head of the Joint Staff Department under the CMC, and Lieutenant-General Zhang Shengmin, secretary of the PLA Discipline Inspection Commission, indicate that Xi will maintain the emphasis on “clean” and corruption-free armed forces.

Zhang Shengmin, incidentally, previously served in the 52nd, 55th and 56th Bases of the Second Artillery in the Lanzhou Military Region and was political commissar of the Second Artillery Command College between 2012 and 2013. General Miao Hua as head of the Political Work Department under the CMC will further Xi’s agenda of expanding party control and supervision over China’s armed forces, ensuring that personnel are “red and expert”.

The new appointments in the CPC’s top bodies will allow Xi to pursue his ambitious agenda with little restraint.

Jayadeva Ranade

The author is a former additional secretary in the Cabinet Secretariat, government of India, and is currently president of the Centre for China Analysis and Strategy.

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