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Party Congress opens: Xi Jinping set to consolidate power
On Wednesday, the 19th congress of the Chinese Communist Party opens in Beijing. 2287 delegates will elect 200 members of the Central Committee, 25 members of the Politburo, of which 7 form the Standing Committee, the country’s most powerful body – in theory, because in practice China seems to be heading towards one-man rule after decades of collective leadership
The Party Congress is thought to last for a week, but past congresses have varied in length, and final statements has always been a cause for intense speculation.
Only held once every five years, the event is regarded as a milestone for the party where policy may be consolidated or radically changed and leaders are kept on, or removed. The ultimate goal is to show China’s 1.3 billion people that its leading party is in charge of the country, and is united.
“What is different is the focus on [party secretary general] Xi Jinping,” says Michael Dillon, a veteran China watcher and the author of a book on Deng Xiaoping, the father of China’s current economic policy.
“The whole leadership structure that we have now is very recent. And under [previous leader] Hu Jintao and his premier Wen Jiabao there was much more emphasis on collective leadership”, he adds.
Dillon says that he sees the re-emergence of a “miniature version of the sort of Cult of Personality that was growing in the 1960s under Mao [Zedong]”.
He points to pictures, paintings, quotations and books by and about the party chief.
“This indicates that China is moving away from a relatively collective leadership to one dominated by an individual again,” says Dillon.
Other observers agree.
“Intellectuals in Beijing have called the Party Congress a coronation of Xi Jinping as Emperor for Life,” says Willy Wo-lap Lam, of the Chinese University of Hong Kong.
“Without a doubt the 2000 delegates have confirmed Xi Jinping’s status as the Mao Zedong of the 21st century. Xi Jinping’s tight control over the party, including the fact that Xi Jinping’s faction is the sole faction that emerged as the most powerful faction of the party.”
The party leader will start the congress with a speech, outlining the achievements of the Communist Party.
“He will say that the Party has been strengthened through the anti-corruption campaign, which he has launched, the party has also boosted control over different aspects of Chinese life”, says Lam
Xi Jinping has been successful in using the anti-corruption mechanism as a powerful weapon to intimidate the party elders.
Most of the powerful “clans” in the party including those led by Jiang Zemin, Wen Jiabao or Hu Jintao, their children and relatives have all become multi-millionaires.
Lam says that because of their business operations, “in many cases corruption is suspected” and used as a means to get rid of political opponents.
On the economic field, China is well on track to become the world’s economic superpower by the year 2049.
This is in line with the “Chinese Dream,” first outlined by Deng Xiaoping in the 1980s.
The first objective was to end the colonial era.
This happened after Hong Kong returned to the mainland in 1997, followed by Macao in 1999.
Then, a period of fifty years was set to reach a “comfortable” economic level for all citizens.
“The livelihood of all Chinese citizens will take the leap forward. The Chinese government can ensure that China can be able to avoid the so-called middle-income trap, which has been a big problem in other developing countries,” says Lam.
Meanwhile, factions that seemed to balance the collective leadership under Hu Jintao and before him, Jiang Zemin, seem to have lost in power. But Dillon says that Xi Jinping has to be careful.
“There are definitely [still] factions. He’s having to deal with resistance, from the different party factions, who of course put him there in power in 2012, on the basis of agreement by leading people within the different factions in the party.
Internationally, analysts expect China to become more arrogant.
After initializing the massive “One Road-One Belt” program that is aimed at creating a web of multi-billion infrastructure projects that stretch from China along the shores of South Asia into East Africa, the Middle East and Europe, China has become more and more dominant as a global investor and trading partner.
Observers worry about China’s military expansion after the inauguration of its first foreign military base in Djibouti, in August, but also point out that the US, China’s main global rival, has over 800 military bases worldwide.
In his relationship with the US, Xi Jinping is not expected to be accommodating.
“When Xi Jinping’s power is enhanced by the Party Congress, it is very unlikely that he will make concessions to the US when Donald Trump comes to visit China in November,” says Lam.
“He will urge President Trump to exercise more caution, with having the war games, military maneuvers held in South Korea”, he says.
Xi Jinping will also express his opposition to the installation of the American anti-missile THAAD system in the region, which Beijing claims is endangering China’s national security.
“So it is likely that the North Korean problem will continue to fester and that if there is no good solution in the tense situation, the stand-off between Washington and Pyongyang will continue,” says Lam.
The Party Congress will be followed by the First Plenum of the 20th Central Committee, that will present its policy for the year to come.