Monday 10 December 2018

Xi becomes most powerful leader of China since Chairman Mao

Chinese President Xi Jinping. Photo: AP
Chinese President Xi Jinping. Photo: AP

Neil Connor

Chinese president Xi Jinping has been launched into the same political league as Mao Tse-tung after China's Communist Party voted to enshrine his ideology into the state's constitution.

The move is being seen as significant in China, which is thought to have been ruled by collective responsibility and consensus among senior leaders since Chairman Mao's death in 1976.

With the party's support firmly behind him, Mr Xi will now be emboldened to continue his strong style of authoritarian rule at home and muscular foreign policy abroad.

There is growing speculation that Mr Xi is seeking to break with precedent and extend his power beyond two five-year terms. Any attempt to do so has now been made easier, given his pre-eminent position in the constitution. It means he could rule for life.

Only Mao, considered the founding father of modern China, had his ideology enshrined into the party constitution when he was still alive. Deng Xiaoping, architect of China's reforms, had the honour awarded after his death.

Hu Jintao and Zhang Zemin also had their guiding thoughts enshrined, but without their names attached and after they served as president.

"This is Xi's era - and it's an era he has created for himself," said Zhang Lifan, a Beijing-based political commentator.

"Mao had to wait 24 years until he had his ideology included in the constitution, but for Xi it was only five."

The party yesterday unanimously passed an amendment to include 'Xi Jinping: Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era' as one of its guiding principles.

It was agreed by a unanimous vote on the final day of the Communist Party's congress in Beijing's cavernous Great Hall of the People.

It gives greater powers to the ruling Communist Party, particularly with regards to China's rapidly modernising military. However, some experts say that although China has emerged as the world's second biggest economy, Beijing still struggles to pull millions out of poverty. By contrast, the country has also produced a free-spending generation of wealthy urban middle classes whose lifestyles are distant from Communist ideology.

"The challenge the party has of how it relates to people's daily lives remains," said Kerry Brown, a professor of Chinese Studies at King's College London and a former British diplomat in Beijing.

"The Chinese people and nation have a great and bright future ahead," Mr Xi told party delegates as the meeting came to a close.

"Living in such a great era, we are all the more confident and proud, and also feel the heavy weight of responsibility upon us," he said.

The concept Mr Xi has touted is seen as marking a break from the stage of economic reform ushered in by Deng Xiaoping in the late 1970s and continued under his successors.

For centuries, Chinese emperors were accorded ritual names that signalled either they were successors in a dynastic line or the founder of an entirely new dynasty. What Mr Xi accomplished this week was a modern equivalent of the latter, Mr Zhang said. "He wants to join that pantheon of leaders," he said.

Despite being elevated to the status of both a political and theoretical authority in the party, Mr Xi still lacks the broad popular support of the Chinese public that Mao had enjoyed, said Zhang Ming, a political analyst in Beijing who recently retired from a prestigious university.

"This [elevation] is a result of the party's political system and not of the sincere support of the people's hearts," Mr Zhang explained. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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