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Rising to stature of Mao, Deng

Xi Jinping set to become chairman for life after crushing dissent, writes Arun Srivastava.

Rising to stature of Mao, Deng

A series of unprecedented political and military developments are taking place in China contiguous to holding of the 19th Congress of the Communist Party of China which began on October 18. While the CPC is well set to mention President Xi Jinping as a mentor, an honour reserved so far for Communist stalwarts Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping, this would be the first ever Congress which will have the participation of military delegates on an unprecedented scale. Amazingly the former presidents, Jiang Zeming and Hu Jintao, who jointly ruled for two decades, have not been affirmed by name in the party constitution.

From the manner in which things are taking shape, it is certain that Xi would be declared the party's 'Chairman' for life, which has been Mao's special position. Though there are speculations that the some CPC bosses would prefer to watch and judge peoples' reaction and response to the breaking news about Xi likely to be mentioned as the mentor, there are some leaders who feel that this should be done at the Congress itself in the interest of the continuity of the current political developments. Posting it for future will not meet the desired objective.
Nevertheless, one thing is absolutely clear that Xi has managed to suppress pockets of resistance within the party successfully and obviously has emerged much stronger. This change has given rise to numerous speculations. A section of the experts feels that it is the rising dissent in the party that has prompted Xi to induct military officials in the party. Otherwise too, from the beginning, the CPC has been having a fair amount of representation from the People Liberation Army (PLA).
Xi's over-reliance on the military is an indicator. Xi devoted most of his time in restructuring the military. He has purged 'tigers' like Guo Boxiong and Xu Caihou, both former vice chairmen of the Central Military Commission (CMC), which points to sweeping changes. It is an open secret that any leader aspiring to rule over modern China must have a firm grip on its military. While he used the military power to curb dissent, he used his crusade against corruption to consolidate his position. During his five-year tenure, Xi took action against some of the top military as well as political leaders and managed to purge them.
Though Xi's re-election as party general secretary is generally expected, political observers are closely watching if he would manage to pack the seven-member politburo standing committee, the most powerful club, with his protégés and also purge premier Li Keqiang.
Of the two leaders, Jiang had put forward the concept of "Three represents" and Hu had come out with the idea of "scientific outlook", according to a communiqué issued after the seventh plenary session of the party's 18th central committee, which met for four days till October 14. In a smart move Xi managed to impress upon the party leaders to mention his name. The earlier Congress did not mention him by name as in the cases of Mao and Deng.
There is a general belief in political circles that Mao's line and philosophy in today's China are a major challenge to Communist rulers. The present-day leaders find it a tough proposition to challenge and put an alternative political line. Xi is the only civilian in the 11-member CMC. The way things are moving, it is unlikely that Xi will project any of the party leaders to be inducted into the CMC. Apprehensions are also being expressed that he may not like to follow the convention of the party to groom a successor as he is already eyeing a third term. During the 18th Congress, which was held five years ago, the then President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao had overseen an orderly transfer of power, adhering to the conventional two terms and handed over power to Xi, who was then the Vice President.
At least two incidents: Donald Trump's threat to China and India's border dispute with it have added much strength to Xi's power. If sources are to be believed, the military mobilisation at Doklam has been a strategic move of Xi to win over the military and demonstrate his power to the Chinese people. The Trump threat was used to convince the CPC leaders to fall in line as the country was facing the capitalist threat.
It is perhaps for the first time in 15 years that a Chinese leader will begin his second term after having been in power for five years, heading the three power centres. Already grounds are being prepared to facilitate Xi to achieve his goal. The official Xinhua wrote: "Over the past five years, the CPC central committee with Xi Jinping at the core raised a series of new ideas, thoughts, and strategies, formulated a string of important guidelines and policies and rolled out many significant measures".
Xi's first term has been marked by China raising its global image with international investments and massive changes within the Communist Party and the government at home. This includes revamping of military units, which have traditionally played a key role in the Communist Party.
But the lone person, who has been sending distress signals to the Congress and Xi, is the maverick Chinese billionaire Guo Wengui, who claims to be the Che Guevara of Chinese crony capitalism. He threatens to crash Xi's party. Unfortunately for Xi, some of the leading luminaries of the CPC are actively encouraging rebel activities. Recent weeks have seen Guo, a member of Donald Trump's Mar-a-Lago club and who has shared private jets with Tony Blair, recast himself as a selfless freedom fighter battling "to expose the leviathan Chinese mafia state". "No one can withstand our pursuit of democracy, freedom and the rule of law," he boasted on Twitter this week.
What has shaken the position of Xi is the revelation that more than 200 human rights activists and lawyers have gone missing in a nationwide crackdown against what the authorities described as a "major criminal organisation". It also signals a marked escalation in state repression of the civil society.
Xi is depending on the "young guards" and it is expected that the Congress would witness a substantial number of them being promoted to important positions in the party. Of the 303 personnel belonging to the military, nearly 90 percent are first-time delegates. Leaders born before 1950 will not be eligible for membership on the 19th Central Committee. About 83 per cent of the military representatives who are full members of the 19th Central Committee will be new.
The newly-promoted military leaders share three distinct characteristics. First, most joined the PLA at a very young age: second, while they received fast-track promotions under Xi Jinping, most spent the early part of their military careers advancing step by step through the military hierarchy. Third, most of them are well acquainted with new trends in modern warfare and the movement toward joint operations. These shared characteristics of the PLA's top officer corps seem to align with Xi's pronounced goal of transforming China's military operations from a Soviet-style, army-centric system toward what analysts call a "Western-style joint command."
(The views are strictly personal.)

Arun Srivastava

Arun Srivastava

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