Mon, Oct 24, 2016 - Page 4 News List

Xi to tighten grip at CCP meet: analysts

‘PARTY DISCIPLINE’:Nearly 400 top members of the CCP are to gather in Beijing for the Sixth Plenum, in what might be a ferocious, high-stakes battle for control over China

AFP, BEIJING

The leaders of the world’s most powerful political party are scheduled to gather in Beijing today for a conclave that could change the course of Chinese history.

In meetings at the exclusive Jinxi Hotel, safe from the public’s prying eyes, nearly 400 top members of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) are scheduled to confer for four days, discussing changes to how the giant party is to be managed.

The meeting, according to the official Xinhua news service, is to focus on the issue of “party discipline.”

The dry rhetoric hides what might be a ferocious, high-stakes battle for control over the world’s second-largest economy.

The Sixth Plenum, as the meeting is known, comes as the party — which has more than 88 million members — faces a period of tectonic change.

Since taking its helm in 2012, Chinese President and CCP Secretary-General Xi Jinping (習近平) has sought to bend it to his will, and taken control of more levers of power than any leader since Mao Zedong (毛澤東).

His anti-corruption campaign has laid waste to the party’s organizational chart, felling seemingly invincible bastions of power such as former Chinese domestic security head Zhou Yongkang (周永康) and paralyzing lesser bureaucrats across the nation with fear.

Xi has described the party as a “magic weapon” that can be used to implement reforms necessary to achieve his goal of the “Great Rejuvenation” of the Chinese nation, an idea that he frequently describes as the “Chinese dream.”

However, attempts to rein in sclerotic state-owned enterprises — which control strategic sectors of the economy and are sources of patronage for powerful politicians — have met with stiff resistance from entrenched interests.

“These reforms have really gone nowhere over the last three years,” said Anthony Saich, an expert on Chinese politics at Harvard University. “Clearly, Xi sees the party as the only vehicle that can push ahead with reforms. He does not trust society or the state to move ahead with the reforms he wants.”

At the meeting, “there will be jockeying between those who enjoy Xi’s support and those who are negatively affected by the campaign against corruption and by the potential for further reforms of the state-owned sector,” he said.

For Xi, improving party discipline means more than simply reducing cadres’ bad behavior.

“He has been very ambitious in grabbing power, in arrogating powers to himself,” said Willy Lam (林和立), a China expert at the Chinese University of Hong Kong.

The “major motivation” of any new rules passed during the plenum will be to “consolidate [Xi’s] position as the big boss,” he said.

Several measures have already been introduced to make sure party members toe Xi’s line, he added, including prohibitions against officials making “groundless criticism.”

“Only one person in the party, namely Xi Jinping, has the right to define what the political rules are,” Lam added.

The meeting comes as speculation mounts that Xi could look to stay on in power after 2022, when he would normally be expected to step down after two terms in office.

Such a move would be “an extremely risky proposal, as it would create severe frictions among China’s political elite,” the Mercator Institute for China Studies’ president Sebastian Heilmann wrote in a research note.

While Xi is the president, he derives his power from his CCP post.

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