RE-ELECTION OF XI JINPING – Some Noticeable Points

Xi Jinping, aged 69, who has been the President of the People’s Republic of China since Mach 14, 2013 was re-elected unanimously for another term during the week-long 20th session of China’s People’s Congress on 10 March, 2023. The proceedings were closed-door and the world-media termed the Electoral College i.e.’ National People’s Congress’ (NPC) composed of nearly 3,000 delegates; as rubber-stamp. The exercise was precedent-breaking as all the post-Mao period leaders had stepped-down after two terms of five years, however Xi decided otherwise. He actually took advantage of a constitutional amendment, he himself had orchestrated in 20018. It was also singular that all the 07 members of ‘Politburo’s Standing Committee’ appeared collectively in the Great People’s Hall to announce the result of Presidential poll. Political analysts called it an effort to establish the credibility of vote. There is also confusion regarding the duration of next term as no limit has been mentioned in the order unlike the previous such-like notifications. It is speculated locally and internationally that Xi plans to stay in power till death and necessary tailoring of the constitution will be under-taken at some appropriate juncture. Beyond any shadow of doubt, Xi Jinping has emerged as the most powerful leader of the after-Mao Zedong history because apart from presidency, he will hold two other crucially important positions in the Chinese system——head of the ‘Chinese Communist Party’ (CCP) and the Commander-in-chief of the armed forces. The only exception can be Deng Xiaoping; who guided China’s economic opening as paramount leader from 1979 to 1997: in prominence and intellectual influence but not in power he can possibly be compared with Xi.

President Xi’s speech, after his re-election, was meaningful. He stressed that Chinese nation will work harder to attain the long-cherished dream of ‘national rejuvenation’. The use of this term meant transforming China into a global power with (i) higher standards of living; and (II) ultra-modern technologies; corresponding with the West. This address was made before a gathering of carefully hand-picked media-persons, to avoid any embarrassing or controversial questions. Xi also announced the approval of NPC to overhaul the ‘Science and Technology Ministry’, formation of a ‘Financial Regulatory Body’ and establishment of a ‘National Data Bureau’ apart from criticizing Washington’s ‘containment, encirclement and suppression of China’.

The recent developments did not crop-up out-of-blue; Xi has been filling all the decision-making forums with his supporters for last many years. Actually, Xi wanted tighter control over the system and society, particularly regarding China’s struggling economy. It was not heartening to notice that a number of promotions were either non-entities or they had not served on any high-level position. The promotion of Shanghai’s Party Secretary Li-Qiang is commonly pointed-out who was a hardly middle-grade official sharply criticized for mismanagement of Shanghai riots that erupted against government’s Zero-tolerance policy on Covid-19 in the recent past. He is widely speculated to be named Prime Minister. Cai Qi from Beijing and Li Xi from Guangdong province also fall in the same category. Meanwhile, two of his lieutenants: Han Zheng and Zhao Leji were awarded the roles of vice-President and head of parliament. Numerous other cronies are expected to occupy important slots in due course of time. The exclusion of ex-Chinese Premier Ki Keqiang and previous President Hu Jintao, two elderly and well-respected statesmen, from the system, due to their policy differences with Xi, is reflective of his preference of loyalty over merit. Xi’s exclusive control over the Party’s ‘inner circle’ has perturbed the political observers in and outside China. Professor Jean-Pierre Cabestan of Baptist University of Hong Kong, considered to be an expert of Chinese politics has indicated the absence of any ‘counter-weight or checks and balances in the system’: a situation which can lead to arbitrary decision-making. Tony Saich of Harvard University has questioned that in this type of dispensation, ‘will anyone stand up to him if there are policy errors?’ Moreover, are the nominated loyalists equipped with the necessary skills ‘to deal with the future complex challenges?’ According to John Ruwitch of National Public Radio (NPR), the re-election ‘was the culmination of a steady and at times ruthless consolidation of power that started after Hu Jintao handed the reins of the party to Xi in 2012’. Another source commented that ’his re-appointment completes a comprehensive power grab that has been gathering pace and highlights Xi’s dominance over the Chinese political system’. Some political scientists felt disappointed by the fact that no other faction in the huge CPC was influential enough to come-up with a counter-narrative on ideological or constitutional grounds.

Presently, China is confronted with two inter-linked problems: unstoppable Coronavirus and increasing economic difficulties. Zero-tolerance policy on Covid-19 ignited public resentment leading to repeated city-wide lock-downs, food shortages and lack of medical supplies. The economic complications were highlighted by; (i) government’s reluctance in issuing the nation’s third-quarter Gross Domestic Product (GDP) data; and (II) the continuously ascending real-estate crisis. According to reliable data, China’s economic growth has plummeted from 7.8% in 2013 to only 3% in 2022, mainly due to; (i) Xi’s strict COVID controls; and (II) friction with the U.S.-led West. As per analysis of ‘The Guardian’ dated 10 March,2023, on the one side China is trying to support Russia in Ukraine War and on the other it needs to mend fences with Europe to get the country’s economy back on track. After the re-election, Xi has to wriggle-out of multi-dimensional complexities of serious nature.

The last word: Re-election is over; hard decisions await.