China made Xi new ‘core leader’ amid questions about his credentials

Xi Jinping.
Xi Jinping.

(, Oct28, 2016) – The sixth plenum of the 18th Central Committee of the Communist Party of China (CPC) has ended on Oct 27 with General Secretary Xi Jinping being elevated as the party’s “core” leader. Although this is seen as having made him more powerful, it is not clear to what extent. China’s official Xinhua news agency reported Oct 27 that a statement released after the four-day meeting said “unrestricted power or any unsupervised Party members are not allowed to exist within the CPC.”

The communique was further cited as saying “supervision is the fundamental guarantee for exercising power properly, as well as a crucial measure for strengthening and regulating political life within the Party.”

Reuters reported Oct 27 that Xi got the title of “core” leader, putting him on par with past strongmen like Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping, but with a signal that his power would not be absolute. It also cited the lengthy communique as stressing the importance of maintaining the collective leadership system which “must always be followed and should not be violated by any organisation or individual under any circumstance or for any reason”.

The statement was said to call on all party members to “closely unite around the Central Committee with Comrade Xi Jinping as the core”.

The “core leader” title is said to mark a significant strengthening of Xi’s position ahead of a key party congress next year, at which a new Standing Committee, the pinnacle of power in China, will be constituted.

A commentary from People’s Daily about the sixth plenum further reinforced Xi’s position, explaining that strong “core” leadership at the top was needed in order to unite the party, overcome challenges and continue forward on “the great cause of socialism with Chinese characteristics,” reported Oct 28.

And the Oct 28 cited analysts as saying the new title would appear to grant Xi even more political power within the top leadership, including the power of final approval or veto, putting him in the footsteps of Deng Xiaoping, and warning party members not to question his authority as the government attempted to navigate its way through some serious challenges.

Xi set out to rapidly consolidated power after assuming office nearly four years ago, including as the head of a group leading economic reform and appointing himself the commander-in-chief of the military in addition to his already powerful position as the Chairman of the Central Military Commission.

Reuters noted that an unofficial campaign to name Xi the “core” had been underway this year, with about two-thirds of provincial leaders referring to him as such in speeches, before the plenum formally accorded him the title.

The term “core” was first used by Deng Xiaoping when he abruptly placed Jiang Zemin into power following the upheavals of 1989 pro-democracy movement which ended with the Tiananmen Square massacre. Since then, it has also been applied to Deng himself, as well as Mao Zedong, but not on Xi’s Predecessor Hu Jintao.

Former president Jiang Zemin, seen as Xi’s main rival as centre of power, was also described as a “core” leader by Deng. The Mandarin service of Oct 27 cited analysts as saying the move also represented an attempt to boost Xi’s flagging authority following months of factional strife.

“This is the doing of Xi Jinping’s own faction, who are actually trying to establish his authority,” US-based China scholar and former journal editor Li Hongkuan was quoted as saying. “But the more the Chinese Communist Party does things like this, the more it suggests that his authority is under threat; it’s possible that some people at the level of the Politburo [standing committee] don’t recognize it,” he was further quoted as saying.

The report also cited Wu Fan, editor in chief of the overseas Chinese-language magazine Chinese Affairs, as saying the reason Xi needed to boost his authority by referring to himself as ‘core’ was to overcome strong opposition within party ranks. But he is not sure if Xi’s core leader claim would stick, pointing out that his record was less impressive than those of Mao or Deng.

“Mao Zedong was the ruler of all he surveyed, and he was a core leader,” Wu has said, adding “Deng Xiaoping stopped the Cultural Revolution and launched economic reforms, so he deserved core status.”

“But does Xi Jinping deserve? China is much worse off now than it was four years ago,” he has added.

But Xi, who is said to nurse an ambition to rule beyond the established two five-year terms limit, is still said to have a fight on his hands to change rules set down in 1980 aimed at preventing personality cults around a single leader.


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