The new Mao? Xi Jinping expected to officially expand his rule in China
The 20th Congress of the Communist Party of China is planned to be celebrated in the second half of 2022. Chinese President Xi Jinping is expected to use the event to formally extend his rule for five more years or even more, something unseen since the times of Mao Zedong.
Bloomberg's China Government Editor Jenni Marsh explains that the party congress gathers over 2,000 delegates of the Chinese Communist Party every five years, generally around October, to 'ostensibly' elect the party's general secretary, among other high-ranking government positions.
“Former leader Deng Xiaoping introduced a system for an orderly succession in the 1980s to prevent a repeat of the turbulent, 27-year, one-man rule of Mao Zedong”, explains Marsh over Bloomberg. Xi could bring that system to an end.
The Washington Post writes that Xi Jinping is expected to either run for a third term as president or resurrect the title of party Chairman, something unseen in several decades. This would virtually put him in the same league as Mao.
On top of that, a historical resolution by the Chinese Communist Party in 2021 elevates Xi to the same historical status as Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping.
Xi Jinping was born in Beijing in 1953. His father Xi Zhongxun (on the right), seen here in Australia in 1979, was part of the earliest generation of Chinese Communist leadership. The elder Xi was considered a moderate within the party, which carried him and his family many problems.
The younger Xi studied Chemistry from 1975 to 1979 at Tsinghua University and would rise within the political apparatus in the following decades. Here's Xi Jinping in 2000 as governor of the province of Fujian.
Xi Jinping succeeded Hu Jintao in 2012 as President of China, General Secretary of the Chinese Communist Party and Chairman of the Central Military Commission. This makes him the paramount leader of the country.
Unlike his predecessors, Xi Jinping has sought to break the tradition of a reserved, collective rule based on consensus over a personalistic leadership. Instead, Xi has redefined the Chinese government around himself.
According to an article from The Wall Street Journal, the president of China has developed "a cult of personality and engineered a removal of term limits, thereby allowing him to become ruler for life". Xi Jinping has even managed to add his political thought within the Chinese Constitution.
Removing term limits also breaks the generational renewal accustomed within the Chinese leadership. Instead of having younger, more modern Communist party members succeed him in 2022, Xi seeks to extend his rule for at least 5 more years and potentially for life.
Under his government, Xi Jinping has solidified China's place as a global superpower. The country surpassed the United States as the world's biggest economy.
The Chinese government launched The Belt and Road Initiative in 2013, a massive infrastructure project in over 70 countries. The project has been described by The New York Times as "the backbone of China’s economic and geopolitical agenda".
However, technological or economic growth hasn't included the promotion of human and social rights. In fact, some experts - such as Jonathan Tepperman in Foreign Policy - argue that "Xi Jinping is methodically dismantling virtually every one of the reforms that made China’s spectacular growth possible over the last four decades".
A tighter control of the media and the population has gone hand in hand with Xi's more centralized approach to ruling China. NPR points out that the country introduced in 2021 stricter media rules that range from limiting online game hours to banning effeminate men on TV.
Under the guise of a strong, national identity, the central government has also cracked down on minority groups such as the the Uyghurs in the western province of Xinjiang.
Al-Jazeera reports that 'Xi Jinping Thought' has been included into the Chinese school curriculum, looking to "extend his personality cult to children as young as seven and rear a new generation of patriots".
Among the 14 principles of Xi Jinping Thought is total rule of the party in every aspect of life: "The government, the military, the people, the academia and all circles, the party leads all".
It also establishes that "the Chinese dream is inseparable from a peaceful international environment and a stable international order".
Some think that the United States and China have entered into some kind of cold war. In the past decade, tensions between the two nations have grown.
The self-ruling territory of Taiwan, an island nation that China officially regards as a breakaway province, could be a point of contention between Beijing and The West.
President Joe Biden claimed in October 2021 that the United States would defend Taiwan in case China made the first strike on the island.
The Chinese government has also developed over the last decade closer ties to Vladimir Putin and Russia. Xi Jinping has said on more than one occasion that Putin was “his best friend” in the international landscape.
However, the Chinese government has adopted a neutral, distant attitude to the war in Ukraine, seemingly leaving Russia alone to face sanctions from the United States, the European Union, and their allies.
Maybe the backlash against Putin and his government's attempt to occupy and maintain the Donbas region in Ukraine provides second thoughts on trying something similar with Taiwan.
Media like The Guardian consider a conflict between the United States and China unlikely, since both countries still depend on each other economically. “Xi’s position looks unassailable now”, argues Rana Mitter for The Guardian.
The only thing that could virtually stop Xi Jinping, according to Mitter, is being forced to step down by the same political elite that anointed his philosophy as “Marxism for the 21st century” and “the essence of the Chinese culture and China’s spirit”.
With his political rivals neutralized and a tight control on Chinese society, nobody is sure for how long will Xi Jinping remain in power. What is certain is that Xi has already left a lasting effect around the world and will be remembered as one of the most important and influential leaders of modern China.