India Today - - CHINA | XI JINPING -

Since tak­ing over in 2012, Xi has purged more high­ranked of­fi­cials than any other leader since Mao

DRESSED IN ARMY FA­TIGUES AND A PEO­PLE’S Lib­er­a­tion Army (PLA) cap, Xi Jin­ping emerged out of the dust in a mil­i­tary jeep. Gath­ered in front of him on the windswept plains of Zhurihe, Asia’s big­gest mil­i­tary base that sits in north­ern China’s In­ner Mon­go­lia re­gion, were 12,000 elite com­bat troops of the PLA. As Xi’s jeep ap­proached, the troops yelled, “Hail to you, chair­man!” “You’ve worked hard, com­rades,” Xi re­sponded. The troops con­tin­ued, “Follow the Party! Fight to win!”

The show of strength on July 30, to mark the 90th an­niver­sary of the PLA, was much more than a mil­i­tary pa­rade. With China for the first time dis­play­ing a range of new hard­ware, in­clud­ing its fifth-gen­er­a­tion J-20 stealth fighter, it was a loud mes­sage for its neigh­bours. In re­cent weeks, the PLA has is­sued a num­ber of warn­ings to In­dia amid the stand­off at the Dok­lam plateau near the In­dia-China-Bhutan tri­junc­tion, while China’s mil­i­tary strate­gists have also been ner­vously look­ing east at the sabr­erat­tling be­tween North Korea and the United States.

But be­yond the sig­nalling over­seas, Bei­jing in­sid­ers say the real mes­sage of the pa­rade was, in fact, aimed at a do­mes­tic au­di­ence. In Novem­ber, China’s rul­ing Com­mu­nist Party will host a once-in-five-years lead­er­ship meet. The 19th CPC Na­tional Congress will choose the next polit­buro and cen­tral com­mit­tee for Xi’s sec­ond five-year term. As ri­val groups jockey to in­stal their favoured can­di­dates and pro­mote their pa­tron­age net­works in the party, Xi is say­ing clearly that “the PLA is with him”, says one party aca­demic. As the of­fi­cial Xin­hua news agency put it in a widely-cir­cu­lated com­men­tary, “Late lead­ers Mao Ze­dong and Deng Xiaop­ing also in­spected troops in the field at key mo­ments in his­tory.” Left un­said was the fact that Xi’s pre­de­ces­sors, Hu Jin­tao and Jiang Zemin, did not. The mes­sage ahead of the 19th party congress is that Xi is in com­mand.


How has Xi man­aged this power grab? Two key events be­fore the pa­rade have un­der­lined how he has tight­ened the grip over the party, and po­si­tioned him­self ad­van­ta­geously as a new party lead­er­ship takes shape ahead of his sec­ond five-year term. First, on July 15, two weeks ahead of the PLA pa­rade, Xi re­moved a key fig­ure in the next gen­er­a­tion of the lead­er­ship. Sun Zheng­cai, seen as one of two favourites to suc­ceed Xi in 2022, was placed un­der in­ves­ti­ga­tion for “vi­o­lat­ing party dis­ci­pline”. In his place in Chongqing, a key mu­nic­i­pal­ity that is rep­re­sented in the polit­buro, Xi ap­pointed his long-time pro­tege and the other next-gen­er­a­tion can­di­date, Guizhou party sec­re­tary Chen Min’er. Then, on July 26, Xi sum­moned all the pro­vin­cial party lead­ers to Bei­jing for a ‘work­shop’ on the 19th congress.

With th­ese moves, Xi “has sent a pow­er­ful sig­nal”, says Steve Tsang, di­rec­tor of the China In­sti­tute at the School of Ori­en­tal and African Stud­ies (SOAS), Lon­don, who points out that be­fore Sun’s re­moval, only three other serv­ing polit­buro mem­bers have been sim­i­larly re­moved. “If you look at the lead­er­ship changes in sev­eral prov­inces,” adds Bo Zhiyue, a lead­ing ex­pert on Chi­nese pol­i­tics at the Bo Zhiyue China In­sti­tute, “there is al­ready

The five pro­vin­cial units in the polit­buro are all headed by Xi's as­so­ciates

a strong sign that the next polit­buro will have a Xi Jin­ping flavour. Be­sides Chongqing, lead­ers else­where are now in key po­si­tions be­cause of their con­nec­tions to Xi,” he says. The five pro­vin­cial units rep­re­sented in the polit­buro—Bei­jing, Shang­hai, Tian­jin, Chongqing and Xin­jiang—are all now be­ing headed by Xi as­so­ciates.


The defin­ing cam­paign of Xi’s first five­year term was a sweep­ing anti­cor­rup­tion crack­down, tar­get­ing the party’s ‘tigers’ and ‘flies’, re­fer­ring to top of­fi­cials and lower­rank­ing cadre. For Xi, the cam­paign served two goals. It elim­i­nated ri­val power cen­tres, and to some ex­tent suc­ceeded in as­suag­ing pub­lic anger against the ram­pant graft in of­fi­cial­dom. On tak­ing over in Novem­ber 2012, Xi iden­ti­fied cor­rup­tion as the big­gest threat to the party’s le­git­i­macy. Since then, he has purged more high­ranked of­fi­cials than any other leader since Mao. Among those were Zhou Yongkang, the for­mer se­cu­rity czar; Bo Xi­lai, the for­mer Chongqing party boss; and, for the first time, two top­rank­ing PLA gen­er­als—Xu Cai­hou and Guo Box­iong. The cam­paign also en­abled him to tighten his grip over the party. As Xi put it at the July 26 work­shop, the cor­rup­tion fight had “gained crush­ing mo­men­tum”. He called for “unswerv­ing ad­her­ence” to the party lead­er­ship.

The two other ma­jor re­forms in his five­year term were the mas­sive over­haul of the PLA—more de­part­ments are now di­rectly un­der the Cen­tral Mil­i­tary Com­mis­sion, which Xi heads—and changes in gov­ern­ment, where he has con­cen­trated more ad­min­is­tra­tive power in the hands of the party, at the ex­pense of the gov­ern­ment, whose func­tion­ing gen­er­ally has more over­sight. This has re­versed a two­decade­long shift that saw a some­what di­min­ished role for party bod­ies. Xi has done so by set­ting up se­cre­tive ‘lead­ing small groups’ (LSGs) that now de­cide pol­icy on every­thing, from na­tional se­cu­rity to eco­nomic re­forms (see graphic: The Party Nerve Cen­tre). Qiao Mu, a pro­fes­sor at Bei­jing For­eign Stud­ies Univer­sity, said in an ear­lier interview that this has fur­ther con­cen­trated power and led to greater opac­ity. Even the com­po­si­tion of some LSGs is not known. In the past, eco­nomic af­fairs was un­der the premier who heads the state coun­cil or cab­i­net, but now de­ci­sion­making is by the pres­i­dent. Xi heads the LSG for ‘com­pre­hen­sively deep­en­ing re­form’, now the most im­por­tant body in set­ting pol­icy, as well as those for de­fence and in­ter­net se­cu­rity. Un­con­firmed re­ports say Xi even heads an LSG on South China Sea mat­ters, un­der­lin­ing how he is now dic­tat­ing pol­icy di­rectly.


This has ram­i­fi­ca­tions for for­eign pol­icy. Xi has taken more di­rect con­trol, and ex­perts say this means a stronger stand on is­sues such as ter­ri­to­rial dis­putes. For in­stance, Xi has ‘per­son­ally made de­ci­sions’ to ex­pand China’s con­trol over the South China Sea, re­ported one in­flu­en­tial Bei­jing news­pa­per, Study Times, on July 21. It said Xi had ‘per­son­ally steered a se­ries of mea­sures’, such as con­tro­

ver­sial is­land-build­ing moves that have seen China for­tify con­tested reefs and in­stal in­fra­struc­ture, in­clud­ing mil­i­tary equip­ment. Study Times said, Xi ‘per­son­ally made de­ci­sions on build­ing is­lands and con­sol­i­dat­ing the reefs, and set­ting up the city of San­sha, which fun­da­men­tally changed the strate­gic sit­u­a­tion of the South China Sea’.

The ed­i­to­rial didn’t re­fer to the Dok­lam stand­off—and whether or not Xi might have had a say in the road-build­ing there that trig­gered the dis­pute—but it did add that while China ‘faces tremen­dous risks of be­ing sur­rounded by tigers and wolves and suf­fer­ing even more in­tense strate­gic en­cir­clement, clashes and med­dling’, un­der Xi, ‘the lion of the east has wo­ken’. Steve Tsang, of SOAS, says that Xi’s po­lit­i­cal power play may be tied to the un­prece­dented re­ac­tion by China to Dok­lam, with near-daily state­ments aimed at In­dia and in­vo­ca­tions on the ‘lessons of his­tory’. “Xi can­not ap­pear to be weak in the run-up to the 19th congress and there­fore will not take ac­tion that may present him as such,” he says. “He is un­likely to soften China’s ap­proach to bor­der is­sues with In­dia or, for that mat­ter, with any of China’s neigh­bours.”

The over­whelm­ing fo­cus now is on the 19th party congress, says Bo Zhiyue. Xi’s pri­or­ity in his sec­ond term will be push­ing long-pend­ing re­forms that he him­self had signed off on but has failed to im­ple­ment, show­ing there are limits to even his power. This in­cludes an am­bi­tious 60-re­form blue­print for the econ­omy as it deals with slow­ing growth, ex­cess ca­pac­ity and vast state-owned en­ter­prises that are re­sist­ing change. “We have not seen much progress in any of th­ese ar­eas,” says Bo. “Change in China is very in­cre­men­tal, so some­times it takes a long time to see the clear tra­jec­to­ries of re­form.” The first step, for Xi, is en­sur­ing his men are in place (there are few women in the party’s up­per hi­er­ar­chy) be­fore the congress con­venes. So far, signs are he has all but en­sured that, come Novem­ber, there will only be one tiger on the moun­tain.


Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping in­spects a mil­i­tary pa­rade in Zhurihe, July 30


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