China's Xi Jinping Boosts Power With New Honor in Ruling Party's Charter

2017-10-24
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Senior Chinese Communist Party officials tipped for elevation to the Politburo standing committee include (L-R) Li Zhanshu, Zhao Leji, and Wang Huning.
Senior Chinese Communist Party officials tipped for elevation to the Politburo standing committee include (L-R) Li Zhanshu, Zhao Leji, and Wang Huning.
AFP/AP

The ruling Chinese Communist Party on Tuesday voted to enshrine President Xi Jinping in its constitution, the only Chinese leader to be named in the document alongside late supreme leaders Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping.

An amendment including "Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era" as a guiding principle in the party's founding document passed unanimously on the last day of the 19th party congress.

"Xi Jinping Thought ... represents the latest achievement in adapting Marxism to the Chinese context, and encapsulates the practical experience and collective wisdom of our Party and the people," an official statement said.

"It is an important component of the theory of socialism with Chinese characteristics, and a guide to action for all our members and all the Chinese people as we strive to achieve national rejuvenation," it said, adding that Xi's personal brand of politics "must be adhered to and steadily developed on a long-term basis."

At the same time, Xi ally Wang Qishan has stepped down from the all-powerful Politburo standing committee, following months of rumors that Xi would override an unwritten rule requiring those over 68 to retire at five-yearly party congresses.

While the full standing committee line-up isn't expected until Wednesday, Wang's name wasn't among the 204 names making up the new Central Committee, from which the Politburo and its standing committee are drawn.

A Beijing source who declined to be named said Wang could still play a key role in Chinese politics in future, as the party under Xi now appears to be structured around financial, rather than military, power.

"Political power comes from money, so as long as he still has that, [Wang] could still rise again," the source said.

"If the situation changes again, then things could get even more complicated."

Lifetime ruler?

The mention of Xi by name in the party's constitution suggests that he has won a major battle with members of rival factions, at least for now. Xi's power flows more from his position as party general secretary than from his role as state president.

But there are still no guarantees that his brand of "thought" will be widely adopted by the party's more than 90 million members, according to a political analyst who gave only his surname, Wang.

"History is written by the people, and not by [the party]," Wang said.

"If the wind changes, then these things can always be changed again."

An anonymous academic said Xi looks set for a bid to be lifelong ruler in the vein of Mao, however.

"In the Mao era, the party was the party of Mao, and when Deng was in power, he made it the party of Deng," the academic said. "Now, Xi Jinping wants to make it into the party of Xi."

"I think he's definitely going for lifelong rule: this is very clear."

Party personnel chief Zhao Leji, 60, was announced on Tuesday as Wang's replacement spearheading Xi's controversial and ongoing anti-graft campaign at the helm of its Central Commission for Discipline Inspection, confirming his place on the new standing committee.

Multiple media reports have predicted that, of the previous, seven-member Politburo standing committee, Xi and his premier Li Keqiang will remain in their posts, while former vice premier Wang Yang looks set to be promoted to executive vice premier.

New faces, few women

New faces will likely make up the rest of the standing committee: current Politburo member Wang Huning, staunch Xi ally and director of the General Office of the Central Committee Li Zhanshu, and Shanghai party secretary Han Zheng as head of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), reports said.

Li is seen as a capable administrator and loyal Xi aide whose job on the standing committee would be shore up suppport for the president.

"They say that Xi Jinping likes to hire his own people, old friends whom he knows well," U.S.-based rights activist Wei Jingsheng told RFA. "But if he makes the standing committee, it'll just be for show."

"He's not really capable of taking on something big ... he would suit a portfolio like the [rubber stamp] National People's Congress or [its sister advisory body], the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference," Wei said.

"He would probably run into trouble if they gave him a real project to oversee."

U.S.-based scholar Xia Yeliang said that, contrary to media reports, Wang Huning seemed an unlikely candidate for elevation to the highest echelons of power, however.

"I don't think the chances of Wang Huning getting a seat on the Politburo standing committee are very high, and he could still be given plenty to do without making the standing committee," Xia said.

"He is a scholar ... an ideologist, who works with theories that never held water in the first place," he said. "If he did make the standing committee, he would most likely be put in charge of ideology ... which is dirty work, and creates a lot of ill-feeling."

Just 10 women are on the Central Committee, comprising just under five percent of members, while 15 delegates are from ethnic minorities, three of whom are female.

China's top banking regulator Guo Shuqing, veteran banker Jiang Chaoliang and securities regulator Liu Shiyu also made the Central Committee. All three are contenders to replace retiring Central Bank governor Zhou Xiaochuan.

Meanwhile, former U.N. representative Liu Jieyi, 59, was also elected to the Central Committee, and is widely seen as the next head of the Taiwan Affairs Office.

The Congress pledged to improve standards of living among the country's 1.4 billion population, and "ensure harmony between human and nature," in an oblique reference to widespread pollution of China's air, water and soil.

It also vowed to "promote national reunification," in a reference to separately governed and democratic Taiwan.

Reported by Qiao Long for RFA's Mandarin Service, and by Ma Lap-hak for the Cantonese Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.

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