Communist Party of China puts Xi Jinping on a pedestal at the Central Committee’s sixth plenary session

Print edition : December 17, 2021

Chinese President Xi Jinping delivering his speech at the sixth plenary session of the 19th Central Committee of the Communist Party of China (CPC) in Beijing on November 11. Photo: Ju Peng/Xinhua via AP

Members of the Standing Committee of the Political Bureau of the CPC Central Committee (from left) Han Zheng, Wang Huning, Li Zhanshu, Xi Jinping, Li Keqiang, Wang Yang and Zhao Leji raise their hands to lead the voting during the session. Photo: Li Tao/Xinhua via AP

October 1, 1959: Chairman Mao Zedong at Tiananmen Square during National Day celebrations in Beijing. Photo: The Hindu Photo Archives

October 25, 1987: Deng Xiaoping during a session of the National People’s Congress at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing. Photo: JOHN GIANNINI/AFP

A screen at a restaurant in Beijing shows the virtual summit between President Xi Jinping and President Joe Biden on November 16. Photo: Tingshu Wang/REUTERS

The resolution the CPC Central Committee adopted after its sixth plenary session formally places Xi Jinping on the same pedestal as Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping and focusses on the country’s progress during Xi’s nine years in power and his vision for its rejuvenation by its centenary year.

In the second week of November, the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China (CPC) held its sixth plenary session, with the participation of 370 full and alternative members. Its main task was to reassess the role of the party in its centenary year and prepare the ground for the formal elevation of President Xi Jinping to the status enjoyed by past leaders such as Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping who played key roles in the transformation of the country. The communique issued after the meeting said that China under the leadership of Xi had “made historic achievements and undergone a historic transformation”.

While lauding the contributions of Mao and Deng in overcoming the challenges the country faced during their time at the helm, the statement said that it was under Chairman Xi that the country had witnessed the “tremendous transformation from standing up and growing prosperous to becoming strong”. It also mentioned the changes instituted in Hong Kong after the mass protests in 2019. It also said that since its founding in 1921, the CPC had remained true to its original aspiration and mission of “seeking happiness for the Chinese people and rejuvenation for the Chinese nation. Staying committed to communist ideals and socialist convictions….” The meeting is a prelude to the party congress to be held in 2022. The congress is expected to formally approve the candidature of general secretary Xi for a third five-year term. He will then become the first leader after Chairman Mao to be at the helm of affairs for more than two consecutive terms. In 2018, the Communist Party removed the two-term limit that had been in place since the mid 1970s. The communique praised Xi’s efforts to remodel the economy, eradicate corruption, tackle pollution and reduce poverty.

The plenum hailed Xi’s handling of foreign affairs. “China has broken new ground in its diplomatic endeavours amid profound global changes and turned crises into opportunities…. These efforts have resulted in a marked increase in China’s international influence, appeal, and power to shape,” the communique said. China’s ambitious Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), despite opposition from the United States and its allies, has been a great success. Almost all Asian countries have joined the BRI, barring notable exceptions such as India. The BRI now extends all the way to Latin America, which the U.S. considered its backyard not so long ago.

The party was also full of praise for Xi’s handling of cultural and ideological issues. The communique called upon “the entire party, the military and all Chinese people to rally more closely around the Central Committee with Comrade Xi Jinping at its core and fully implement Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era”.

Also read: China celebrates the 100th anniversary of the founding of Communist Party of China

It stated: “Comrade Xi Jinping has many profound thoughts and assessments about a series of scientific theories and their implementation … and raised a series of original and new concepts and strategies on governing the nation. He is the major author of ‘Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics in the New Era’.” The statement said that Xi’s thoughts embodied the best of 21st century Marxist-Leninist theory and the Chinese cultural ethos.

For the last couple of years, Xi has routinely been referred to as the “core” and the “pole” leader of the country who was instrumental in overcoming the threat posed by the pandemic and other serious challenges, especially those that have come from the West in recent years. Xi’s key role in reducing corruption, cutting poverty and advancing the country’s technological capabilities were highlighted in a recently published 532-page “brief” history of the CPC.

The Central Committee statement emphasised that Xi showed “enormous courage” and “strong responsibility in overcoming challenges both internationally and domestically” and acknowledged that “the external environment had grown increasingly complex over the past year … while China faced extremely arduous tasks in Covid-19 prevention and control as well as economic and social development at home”. The delegates did not wear face masks, a clear sign that the pandemic no longer poses a serious threat to the country.

Economic slowdown

Under the impact of the pandemic, global inflation and domestic power shortages, China’s economy grew lower than 5 per cent in the third quarter, much below the 8 per cent growth the country had been recording for the past two decades. The property market is facing a crisis, with one of the country’s biggest property firms, Evergrande, seemingly on the verge of bankruptcy. Despite achieving the laudable goal of eliminating absolute poverty in the country, the gap between the rich and the poor in China is still huge.

The country today has more dollar billionaires than the U.S. At the same time, recent statistics have revealed that 600 million Chinese are not in a position to afford to buy their own property in major cities. This year, the government moved against big Chinese companies such as Alibaba and TenCent to curtail their monopolistic tendencies. The CPC has characterised the activities of some big Chinese business houses as going against Xi’s stated goal of promoting “common prosperity”.

Also read: Why China's property crash isn't a Lehman Brothers moment

The plenum supported the report by the CPC’s Political Bureau that Xi presented and, breaking from the past, adopted a “resolution on the major achievements and historical experience of the party over the past century”. Resolutions of such importance were adopted only on two previous occasions. The first was in 1945 under the leadership of Mao. In the decade before that, the party was afflicted with serious infighting. After 1945, Mao emerged as the undisputed leader of the CPC. The second time was in 1981, after Deng took control of the party. The party had at the time decided to open a new chapter after the serious economic, political and social problems resulting from the Mao-inspired “Great Leap Forward” and “Cultural Revolution” from 1966 onwards.

The year 1981 also marked the opening of the country to foreign capital and capitalistic restructuring. Deng and the CPC had however emphasised that Mao Zedong Thought continued to be the guiding ideology of the party, saying that Mao’s “contribution to the revolution far outweigh his mistakes”. The resolution formally places Xi on the same pedestal as Mao and Deng and mostly focusses on the great progress the country has made during Xi’s nine years in power and his vision for “the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation” by 2049 when the People’s Republic will celebrate its centenary. “This reflects the common will of the party, the armed forces and the Chinese people of all ethnic groups, and is of decisive significance to advance the cause of the party and the country in the new era and for driving forward the historic process for national rejuvenation,” the document said.

The plenum was told that the party through its historic experience always prioritised the needs of the people and advanced innovation while maintaining a global vision. At the same time, the party reiterated that it was committed to “self-reform”. It said that it was always committed to a unified and harmonious front despite the fact that divergent views existed among its 94 million members. It is believed that some in the party want the leadership to be more accommodative to some of the demands from the U.S., while many others would like the government to adopt an even tougher stand against that country and opt for complete national self-reliance.

Either way, the U.S. is determined to do its utmost to ensure that a resurgent China’s wings are clipped at the earliest. Gen. Mark Milley, Chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, said recently that “if we don’t do something to change it”, China will soon “surpass the U.S. and Russia in military power”.

Also read: China warns of return to Cold War tensions

The CPC’s third historical resolution approved by the sixth plenum outlined the following plans: “The party has set the goals for the strengthening of the army for the new era, including the goal to realise the 100th anniversary of its army in 2027, the modernisation of national defence and the army by 2035 and the goal to build a world-class army by the middle of this century…. It will carry out struggles involving Hong Kong, Taiwan, Xinjiang, Tibet and the South China Sea and speed up the building of a maritime power to effectively safeguard national security.”

The resolution also added that “resolving Taiwan’s problems and realising Chinese reunification” was the CPC’s historical mission and a necessary condition “for the great rejuvenation” of the Chinese nation. The resolution makes it clear that China has no intention to replace the U.S. as the world’s next hegemon. Its focus is on achieving superpower status through trade and other peaceful economic means. The BRI is an illustration of this resolve.

The U.S. factor

The text of the resolution the Central Committee approved on November 11 was only released after the virtual three-and-a-half-hour-long meeting between President XI and U.S. President Joseph Biden on November 16. It was their first one-on-one meeting, though it was a virtual one, and the idea behind it was to de-escalate the growing tensions between the two countries. The Biden administration has been upping the ante on the Taiwan issue since he took office. Much of the discussions between the two leaders, according to reports, centred on the Taiwan issue. Speaking after the Xi-Biden summit, U.S. National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said that the U.S. remained committed to its “one China” policy and quoted from joint statements issued by both the countries on the subject since the normalisation of relations in the 1970s.

Also read: Joe Biden, Xi Jinping meet virtually amid deepening U.S.-China divide

At the same time, Sullivan stated that the U.S. was against “any effort to shape Taiwan’s future by anything other than peaceful means”. The summit discussions he said were aimed at avoiding any “destabilising actions” by either side, “to manage risk and ensure that competition does not veer into conflict”. The U.S. side brought up the usual litany of charges against China, ranging from alleged human rights abuses to denial of “freedom of navigation” in the South China Sea.

China responded by blaming the U.S. for imposing economic sanctions, advocating high-tech decoupling between the two countries and forging military alliances such as the Quad and AUKUS to confront China. China accused the Biden administration of using the Taiwan issue to isolate China and interfere in its internal affairs. According to reports, Xi told Biden during their summit that China would take “drastic action” only if provoked but the mainland was “patient and sincere” about seeking peaceful reunification with Taiwan. The recent CPC resolution said that the timing and the momentum for national reunification was entirely on the side of the mainland.

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