The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) celebrates its 100th anniversary tomorrow. Among actions aimed at expanding the celebrations, officials have compiled “80 slogans for the party’s centenary” and “100 quotes from party history.”
In 2013, Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平), who is general secretary of the CCP, said that “power should be exercised within the cage of regulations,” but he has continually challenged the regulations for the sake of his personal power. As a result, the CCP’s 20th National Party Congress next year is seen by some as a looming storm.
While the 19th National Party Congress in 2017 abolished the rule that Chinese presidents can only be re-elected once, that is not the most worrying thing. After all, under the CCP’s two major principles of “party-led government” and “political power grows out of the barrel of a gun,” the CCP’s general secretary and the chairman of the Central Military Commission hold the real political and military power, while the president’s power is not much greater than that of a symbolic head of state under a Cabinet system.
What really shows Xi’s determination to stay in power is that he did not promote a successor at the 19th National Party Congress to join the CCP’s Politburo Standing Committee. Other than Xi, the only one of the six politburo members eligible to be re-elected to the standing committee at the 20th National Congress is Zhao Leji (趙樂際), who is ranked sixth out of the members.
However, Zhao is secretary of the CCP’s Central Commission for Discipline Inspection, and there is no precedent in party history for a member of that commission to take up the post of general secretary.
In the absence of a successor, Xi is likely to be re-elected as party general secretary. That would contravene at least two of the CCP’s major principles: that no one aged 67 or older take up any party post and that no party official serve more than one second term in office. A person can hold the post of CCP general secretary for a maximum of 10 years.
Although these two conventions are unwritten, they have been followed for many years, making it difficult to argue that they are not “regulations.” Xi has likely worked out how to get around them. Raising the age limit could be justified on the grounds of increasing life expectancy. If US President Joe Biden can be president at 78, why not Xi at 69? As to the number of terms, Xi could argue for an exception, as China is in a period of great developmental opportunities.
Party factions and the younger generation will not willingly accept this. One way to stop it would be the Peng Dehuai (彭德懷) model.
Peng, as one of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army’s “10 Marshals,” was always known for his outspokenness. During China’s war of resistance against Japan, he defied Mao Zedong’s (毛澤東) instructions by launching the “100 Regiments Offensive” and won a great victory. During the Korean War, he forced the US to replace General Douglas MacArthur.
However, despite these great military successes, Peng ended up being hounded to death in the Cultural Revolution for having raised doubts about Mao’s policy decisions in the Great Leap Forward. Since then, no one in the CCP has dared to be so openly critical.
Another option would be the Lin Biao (林彪) model. In 1971, CCP vice chairman Lin’s coup attempt, conforming to conditions at the time, could not be done openly, but took the form of a secret palace coup.
However, no such attempt has ever succeeded. The most recent example was in 2012, when Chongqing party committee secretary Bo Xilai (薄熙來) and politburo member Zhou Yongkang (周永康) were not happy about Xi becoming the paramount leader.
The most unstable time for any dictatorship comes during a transition of power. Only if China can get through this institutional crisis can it reasonably claim that the “Chinese model” is a viable path of development.
Yang Chung-hsin is a civil servant.
Translated by Julian Clegg
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