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Xi Jinping wants to be in Mao, Deng’s league. Now, Chinese media is making him look muscular

Xi has reached retirement age. But there are no signs he is going to leave his position as the party’s top leader.

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Chinese President Xi Jinping will try to enter the league of Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping this week with a “historic resolution” at the sixth plenum, also known as the plenary session. A four-day-long meeting kicked off at the Jingxi Hotel in Beijing on Monday. The resolution will elevate Xi’s status in the party and has been attempted only twice in the past by Mao and Deng. The plenum will also set the stage for next year’s National People’s Congress, where the President will attempt to secure a third term in power.

Xi has reached the retirement age of 68 years set for the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) top leaders in the Politburo. But there are no signs he is going to budge and leave his position as the party’s top leader.

The State media has published a hagiographic account of Xi’s ‘achievements’ ahead of the plenum. “A man of determination and action, a man of profound thoughts and feelings, a man who inherited a legacy but dares to innovate, a man who has forward-looking vision and is committed to working tirelessly,” said a Xinhua article. It left no stone unturned to make him look muscular. “Although Xi has little time for himself, he manages to find time for swimming. This, and physical labour during his youth ensure that he has enough stamina to deal with affairs of the party, government, and the military. More importantly, he is driven by a sense of mission,” added Xinhua article.

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Revisiting the former achievements of the CCP

The draft resolution, to be deliberated at the meeting, will answer two questions about the trajectory of the CCP—why it was successful in the past, and how it can continue to succeed in the future.

The State media has hinted at the importance of the resolution by way of citing only two similar resolutions that were passed in 1945 and 1981. The first solidified Mao’s control on China at the beginning of his leadership, and Deng used it to open the economy to the world. He also used it to criticise Mao’s Cultural Revolution and provided the justification for an open economy.

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Where does Xi Jinping stand now?

Almost 400 full and alternate members of the Central Committee, the CCP’s highest governing body, have gathered in Beijing behind closed doors for four days. Only the 200 full members will vote to adopt the resolution on Thursday.

The draft of the resolution was introduced on 18 October at the Politburo meeting, which created a narrative arc of the Party’s history by linking Mao to Deng with Xi in the present. The President is portrayed as someone who has made China ‘strong’. The resolution talks about the three phases of the CCP’s history—Mao’s period of uniting China, Deng’s era when he made the country rich, and Xi’s quest to make it strong.

“The Chinese nation has ushered in a great leap from standing up, getting rich, and becoming strong,” said the summary of the draft. The entire draft resolution and other topics to be discussed at the session haven’t been made public.

Though former presidents Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao are mentioned, their achievements aren’t linked to the party’s history.

The meeting emphasises the long-term struggle of the party. “The Chinese Communists, with Comrades Mao Zedong, Deng Xiaoping, Jiang Zemin, and Hu Jintao as the main representatives, have united and led the Party and people of all the ethnic groups across the country. Achievements promoting revolution, construction, and reform have been accumulated,” mentions the summary.

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How Xi’s resolution is different from the past

The next phase of the party’s trajectory is the ‘great rejuvenation’ of the Chinese nation and is called an “irreversible historical process.”

The past two resolutions sought to correct the ‘errors’ within the CCP in the immediate past. Journalist David Bandurski believes that the current resolution under Xi is far more expansive and covers the period from the foundation of the CCP to date. The current President is likely to replace the past leaders as the centripetal driving force behind the party’s future.

But unlike Mao and Deng, Xi has had to work on forging the support to put forward such a resolution. The former leaders managed to pass similar resolutions earlier in their term. Only now, Xi has reached the point where he can bring forth a resolution like the one discussed this week to cement his legacy within the party and potentially rule for life.

Author Ling Li says questions remain about Xi’s succession plan as he tries to secure another term. Despite the media hype, the removal of the two-term limit on the presidency doesn’t ensure Xi the same status within the party. There are internal hoops that he has to cross before he can solidify his legitimacy as the most significant figure of the CCP.

The author also believes that Xi may attempt to revive the Office of the Chairman of the Party Central Committee, also called the Party Chairman. The title has been held by only three leaders of the CCP—Mao Zedong, Hua Guofeng, and Hu Yaobang. Mao was the only leader who effectively used the Office to rule over the Party, and final decision-making rested with him. There is no term limit on the Party Chairman title within the CCP charter.

Also read: President Xi Jinping’s political ideology to be taught in China’s schools, colleges

China in new shape: what Xi looks forward to

Suppose Xi can secure a solution to his succession concerns from now until next year at the 13th National People’s Congress. In that case, he will have full control to reshape China with his signature campaigns such as ‘Common Prosperity’. Both Mao and Deng had forged a new type of social contract with their resolutions. But Xi is offering a new one to the Chinese people. It is about the rejuvenation of the nation through redistribution of wealth, military strength, and wolf-warrior-style foreign policy.

“From conducting regular patrols in the waters of the Diaoyu Islands, fending off the so-called South China Sea arbitration, finding solutions to China-India border conflicts, to facilitating the return of Chinese people illegally detained overseas, Xi has spearheaded strategic and tactical planning and, if necessary, personally intervened,” said Xinhua, lauding Xi’s foreign policy successes.

The China-India border conflict is the central part of Xi’s signature plan for ‘rejuvenating’ a strong Chinese nation. He is out to reshape China in his image. This week’s bid at the plenum—and next year at the National People’s Congress—will elevate him to the status of Mao and Deng.

The author is a columnist and a freelance journalist. He was previously a China media journalist at the BBC World Service. He tweets @aadilbrar. Views are personal.

(Edited by Humra Laeeq)

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