Written by Camden Hanley
October 24, 2022
This week the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) held their 20th Party Congress. A Party Congress is a large meeting held every five years where, among other things, the people who will be on the Politburo Standing Committee (PBSC) for the next five years are revealed. Those who are on the PBSC are considered to be the top leaders in China. Currently, there are seven members on the PBSC, though it has fluctuated from five to eleven members in the past. Due to the one-party nature of the Chinese state, PBSC decisions effectively have the force of law behind them, which is why foreign observers follow its membership so closely.
At the 20th Party Congress, it was confirmed that Xi Jinping will serve an unprecedented third term as the leader of the PRC. It had become a political norm in China that leaders only serve two five-year terms as leader and then retire allowing a successor to take over. This started with Deng Xiaoping as an effort to prevent one man from recreating personalistic rule within China like Mao Zedong did, something Deng clearly considered bad for China. Xi set the stage for his third term at the 19th Party Congress in 2018 when he had presidential term limits removed from the country’s constitution.
However, it is not just the third term that confirms Xi’s political power, the members of the new PBSC also confirm this. Two incumbent members of the PBSC remained on this edition of it, those being Wang Huning and Zhao Leji. The four new members are Li Qiang, Cai Xi, Ding Xuexiang, and Li Xi. All of these men are considered to be Xi Jinping loyalists. Noticeably, none of the new members are a clear candidate to be a successor to Xi, possibly indicating his intention to remain in office beyond this third term. In the previous iteration of the PBSC, there were men who were considered to from a faction within the CCP that isn’t loyal to Xi. However, these men did not return to the current PBSC despite not reaching the CCP’s unwritten age limit of 68. These include former premier Li Keqiang and Wang Yang. Their exclusion is another example of Xi’s power within the party, effectively marginalizing any factions who aren’t loyal to him.
The new PBSC was not the only interesting thing that happened at the Party Congress. During the closing ceremony, Hu Jintao, Xi Jinping’s immediate predecessor, was escorted out of the Great Hall of the People where the Congress is held. He seemed to be resistant to leaving and exchanged a few words with Xi as he was leaving. This is extremely peculiar for such an event which is normally meticulously stage managed. Explanations range from the official statement from Chinese-state controlled media outlet Xinhua stating Hu insisted on attending the closing ceremony, but was not feeling well and was accompanied to another room to recover to speculation that this was just another show of Xi’s political power to humiliate a leader of an opposing faction. We may never be certain of the true reason it occurred, but it is definitely a noteworthy event.
Something we do know for certain is that Xi Jinping is here to stay for the foreseeable future. However, some experts claim this concentration of power may cause some backlash. For example, if there is a policy failure, there is no one else to blame but Xi and his political allies. At this moment, the PRC does not lack challenges with a domestic economy that is the weakest it has been in a long time and an external environment that is growing more hostile, this newly minted administration does not have much room for error. It remains to be seen whether Xi can guide the Chinese state through the coming storms.
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