In February 2016, I wrote an article on Mr Jinping’s alarming links to Mao over the course of his first term as Chinese president. Since then, the world has seen continued purges, the 19th Party Congress, and the introduction of Xi Thought – strengthening these links evermore. In the last year, Xi has been described as a “king” and the Washington Post has quoted Trump calling him “probably the most powerful” president China has had in a century. Although this may just be blundering flattery on Trump’s behalf, it is not too far from the truth (give or take 50 years). I want to re-evaluate Xi Jinping’s standing within the Communist Party and in China to discern the changes that have occurred over the end of his first term as president.
One of the most notable events in the past year and a half was the 19th Communist Party Congress in October. Here, we saw no sign of a successor. This heralded the first murmurings of Xi potentially aiming to hold onto power after his second term. All of his new central committee members were over the age of 60, making them too old to take over after Mr Jinping. Not to mention that with this reshuffle of the central committee, he has moved more allies into positions of power making it even easier for Xi Jinping to rule completely over the Chinese Communist Party. China Daily, in their Chinese Communist Party Central Committee Report, claimed that “to uphold and strengthen overall party leadership” was being put first and foremost. The party congress also saw the introduction of Xi Jinping Thought, making Mr Jinping the first Chinese leader since Mao to have a named ideology written into the Communist Party charter. This puts Xi at the same level as Mao and Deng Xiaoping in regards to power within the party. From the Party Congress alone we can see Xi - having moved away from the post-Mao style of hidden, collective leadership - centralising power and accumulating more influence within the party.
Since I last wrote about Xi, his “Cult of Personality” campaign has steadily gained momentum within China. Evolving from calling the president “Xi Dada”, Mr Jinping has been formally recognised as the Chinese Communist Party’s “lingxiu” (an extravagant term for leader only previously used for Mao and Hua Guofeng – Mao’s successor). Continuing the theme, Xi is the first “party helmsman”, alluding to Mao’s “Great Helmsman”. The New York Times showed Xi’s aggregation of importance through the front pages of communist newspapers for each reshuffle of leadership since Mao’s death. Each layout is “carefully designed to signal the relative power of top officials”. We can clearly see here the stark difference between preceding years and 2017 with Xi Jinping standing out much more than the other six figures. Mr Jinping’s face is plastered across every city, the constant presence of him consuming normal citizens. Even in the lead up to the 19th Party Congress, there was a Five Years On exhibition showing all of Xi’s military, social, and political triumphs over his first term. With each new step it seems the people’s adoration of Xi increases. Having avoided much media attention until the Party Congress, Mr Jinping has been quietly cultivating a Cult of Personality (gradually becoming as strong as Mao’s or Stalin’s).
Another point I touched on in 2016 was Xi Jinping’s supposed “Anti-Corruption Campaign” that had drifted into something akin to purges. Beginning in 2012, Xi had promised to rid the Communist Party of corruption, targeting both “the tigers and the flies”. Since then, it could be argued that Xi has done what he promised and has removed many that were suspected of corruption from the party. However, with a 99% conviction rate in 2016, it seems more likely that Xi has been using this as a smoke screen in order to rid himself of opposition. In fact, a potential successor for Xi was expelled from the Communist Party at the end of September this year. Sun Zhengcai, a high-flyer within the party, was accused of not clearing the “toxic residue” of Bo Xilai (the first notable victim of Xi’s campaign). This becomes even more suspect when put under scrutiny, and when taking into account the lack of a successor in Mr Jinping’s new central committee. Between December 2012 and October 2017, 18 sitting central committee members were detained for alleged corruption, a worryingly high figure.
Over the past year and a half, Xi Jinping has only tightened his hold on Chinese politics. There is no sign that Xi intends to give up his power in 2022, and after the 19th Party Congress it seems more likely that he will have enough influence not to. Like how Erdogan has accumulated power in Turkey, Xi Jinping follows in the footsteps of Mao and many historical Chinese Emperors in his endeavors. Propaganda, purges, and a lack of opposition, remain at the forefront of Chinese politics and have an ever-growing grasp on the Communist Party and China itself. This blatant gathering of influence has set Xi on the path to complete power. His entire term has been riddled with allusions to the early days of Hitler, Mao, and Stalin. Well-liked, popular, and powerful, Xi Jinping will soon be able to take complete control without much of a fight. Yet the main question this time is will Xi Jinping be able to continue his reforms and avoid the trap that a lack opposition often creates. After all, it is well known that absolute power corrupts absolutely.