Dissidents muzzled as China's ruling party begins top-level meeting

The plenary session will seek to strengthen Xi Jinping's power and set China's direction for the coming decades.
By Qiao Long and Chingman
2021.11.08
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Dissidents muzzled as China's ruling party begins top-level meeting A man looks at books on Chinese President Xi Jinping at a bookstore in Beijing, Nov. 8, 2021.
AFP

The ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP) began a secretive top-level meeting in Beijing on Monday, as dissidents and rights activists were placed under surveillance or forced to leave town on "vacation" in the company of state security police.

Beijing-based dissident Ji Feng said he had been barred from giving interviews to foreign media over the next few days.

"They called me early this morning, and I can't talk to anyone for the next few days," Ji told RFA. "They followed me when I went into town yesterday, because they didn't find me at home."

Other dissidents including Zha Jianguo, who gave his analysis of the plenum in an interview recorded with RFA on Nov. 5, were now incommunicado or out of town, RFA has learned.

State news agency Xinhua published a glowing, 10,000-character "portrait" of CCP leader Xi Jinping at the weekend, describing him as "a man of determination and action, a man of profound thoughts and feelings, a man who inherited a legacy but dares to innovate, a man who has forward-looking vision and is committed to working tirelessly."

It tweeted the text of the article alongside a photo of Xi with his arm raised in the workers' power salute.

Current affairs commentator Wei Xin said Xi is now looking to project an image of a supreme and mighty leader similar to his predecessor Mao Zedong, who was honored with epithets like The Great Helmsman, and the Red Sun.

"They want to establish Xi as a historic figure and leader who is heir to the 100 years of CCP history," Wei said. "This 10,000 character essay is supposed to shape and portray his historic status."

The sixth plenary session of the CCP Central Committee is also expected to pass a resolution on party history, the third in its century-long history.

Early summaries of the resolution suggest it will send a message to the world about China's "national rejuvenation" under Xi, who will be positioned as standing up to foreign oppression on behalf of China's 1.4 billion people.

While it was billed as a "historical" motion by state news agency Xinhua on Oct. 18, the summary of the content under discussion at the plenum was short on historical detail, focusing rather on the country's increasingly assertive foreign policy.

While previous resolutions on CCP history have signaled major shifts in the party line, they have also served to consolidate power in the hands of a single faction within the ruling party.

Questions over party power

According to veteran dissident and independent political commentator Zha Jianguo, the first historical resolution in 1945 affirmed the political line pursued by late supreme leader Mao Zedong, and established him at the helm of the CCP, while the second, passed in 1979, established economic reformer Deng Xiaoping's position as supreme leader.

"The purpose of this third historical resolution is to summarize party history from Deng to Xi, to affirm the current line of Xi Jinping and establish the authority of Xi's line," Zha told RFA.

Zha said the resolution would also seek to shore up the image of the CCP as a long-term ruling party, with an ever-strengthening grip on China.

"It will address questions both in and outside China about whether the CCP will remain in power, and about whether its hold in power will weaken," he said. "It will lay particular emphasis on strengthening CCP leadership."

"For those wondering whether economic reforms will be rolled back or stopped, I think it will definitely seek to ... reaffirm their importance, and the CCP's determination to keep going with them," Zha said.

"It will also seek to ... address any questions about the Chinese political system, and respond to pressure on that system, from the rest of the world," he said.

Consolidation of authority

Current affairs commentator Cai Shenkun said the resolution will likely seek to consolidate Xi's position as "core" party leader for many years to come.

"The most important thing for the sixth plenary session to achieve is to lay the foundation for, and guide the direction for China's development over the next 20 or even 30 years," Cai told RFA. "It will give some indication of where China is headed."

"There will be a repositioning."

U.S.-based commentator Guo Baosheng said the plenum will also make decisions about leadership changes ahead of the 20th Party Congress in 2022.

"The historical resolution has to establish Xi Jinping's position as supreme leader of the CCP and set the scene for his re-election, as well as his historical legacy," Guo told RFA. "He will be drawing on Mao Zedong with his common prosperity policies, and on Deng Xiaoping for economic reform."

The wording reported by Xinhua in October was in stark contrast to the CCP's 1981 "Resolution on Certain Questions in the History of Our Party since the Founding of the People’s Republic of China," in which the CCP under Deng penned a 13-page historical commentary that laid the responsibility for the "leftist errors" leading to the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976) at Mao's door, while also lauding his leadership at great length.

The 1981 resolution was largely addressed to the rank-and-file of the CCP and the people of China, who needed to know the likely direction in which Deng would take them following the death of Mao (1976), the power struggle that led to the fall of his designated successor Hua Guofeng, and the trial of the Gang of Four in November 1980.

But Xinhua's summary of the likely 2021 resolution contains a "declaration to the world," suggesting that its target audience is the international community, some of whom may be wondering whether to fall in with Xi's ambition to export China's model of authoritarian governance overseas, or to strengthen defenses against it.

Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.

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