Xi Jinping has locked in his strength, all he needs now is to be Chairman

The first century of the CCP was famous in July. Xi will now be able to rule the second.

“History is not about the dusty past,” said researchers Adam Ni and Yun Jiang from China Neican. “It’s about the strength to decide the future”.

The resolution was approved on the back of three years of education campaigns based on his own policies and ideas – “Xi Jinping Thought” – and a history of Xi’s achievements published in state media daily over the past few weeks.

The son of a revolutionary, Xi rose from sleeping on a pile of fleas to transforming his country’s economic, diplomatic and military fortunes. In his 38 years as a member of the CCP, he has gone from building wells for villagers to shaping his own philosophy: “happiness is the consequence of struggle”.

That struggle would move from the rural fields of Liangjiahe, by corruption purges, and culminate in an economic shift that would see the rapid pursuit of capitalist wealth during the last few decades transformed into the goal of “shared wealth” for the next century.

“The Chinese nation has made the great jump from standing up to getting high to becoming strong,” the Politburo draft resolution on history said ahead of the final meeting.

Xi visits the Drepung Monastery in Tibet. Credit:AP

Now in the last year of what was supposed to be Xi’s second and final term, China has become the only superpower challenger to the United States, largely contained COVID-19, crushed multi-party democracy in Hong Kong and has its sights set on unification with Taiwan.

“The Party Central Committee, with Comrade Xi Jinping at its chief, has united and led the complete Party and people of all ethnicities across the nation,” the Politburo draft said.

Wu said the timing of Xi’s resolution between the first and second centuries of the CCP and the government’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic offered Xi “very good legitimacy”.

“already if we did not have COVID he would have found some other achievement to justify his rule for the next decade,” he said.

Trey McArver, a partner at policy research firm Trivium China, said the historic resolution was an official proclamation that Xi is taking the country in a new direction.

“Xi’s efforts will also present the first real systemic challenge to capitalist democracy since the end of the Cold War. If Xi is successful, he may very well begin […] a Chinese-led global order. If Xi fails, he could very well bring down the party – and the PRC [People’s Republic of China],” he said.

“Buckle up, we are in for some momentous changes.”

The resolution will pave the way for Xi to either extend his presidency into a third term when he faces the party congress next November or revive a 40-year-old title that will stop him from having to deal with any future leadership tussles: Chairman of the Chinese Communist Party.

That title was held by Mao for 27 years. It was deleted in the tumultuous years after his death to prevent such a concentration of strength from repeating.

A bookstore selling “Xi Jinping Thought” in Beijing. Credit:Sanghee Liu 

Ling Li, a Chinese political scholar at the University of Vienna, said the party chairman is the only office of strength that is held by an individual who is not bound by the founding organisational rule of the party – collective decision-making. It would also allow Xi to groom an heir by making his current official position of General Secretary vacant.

“The reactivation of the party chairmanship would seem to provide the best solution for Xi, as it would allow him to unprotected to two goals simultaneously: to continue to rule and to micromanage the series course of action,” Li wrote in the Made in China Journal in November

“A truly powerful signal that this might be the plan is the unfolding of an exceptionally intensive and vigorous national ideological campaign to establish ‘Xi Jinping Thought’.”

The party used the same playbook when it produced the same office for Mao, culminating in the Resolution of Several Historical Issues in 1945. At the end of the campaign, Mao – then largely seen as a functional leader but not a thinker, had become a leading Chinese-Socialist theorist – legitimising his control over all aspects of the CCP.

Xi Jinping at the centenary of the CCP in July. Credit:AP

Li said you can question the intentions that Xi has for the country’s future “but no one can deny he has a vision”.

“He has a blueprint for the party to rule the country to material wealth and civilisational rejuvenation by 2049,” she said.

Wu said Xi was not just aiming for a third term.

“I think he is aiming much higher. Basically, he needs to build up a consensus that he is already greater than Deng Xiaoping and Mao. I think this resolution will have this kind of narrative.”

But Wu does not see a need for Xi to resurrect the chairman title because he faces no threats to his leadership, has already changed the constitution to remove presidential term limits and at 68 could continue ruling unchallenged for a decade or more.

“I don’t think he needs to find a tricky position for him to continue his term,” he said.

A stall selling CCP memorabilia in Beijing. Credit:Sanghee Liu

The last leader to deliver a historical resolution was Deng in 1981. Too close to memories of Mao’s brutal final years, he never became chairman, but he did become Paramount Leader. Until Xi, he was undisputedly the most important leader after Mao, reshaping the market economy to help deliver four decades of economic growth.

McArver said the resolution would shut the door on Deng’s “opening and reform era” and “officially push the party and Chinese society into Xi Jinping’s New Era”.

The impact will be felt not just in China, but around the world.

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In a speech to the Great Hall of the People five years before the historic resolution, Xi took aim at American author Francis Fukuyama’s claim that the end of the Cold War in the 1990s meant that western liberal democracy was the final form of government – and consequently “the end of history”.

“History has not ended, nor can it possibly end,” Xi said. “The Communist Party of China and Chinese people have every confidence in their ability to provide a Chinese solution to aid the exploration of a better social system for humanity.”

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