Xi Jinping’s Third Term

The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) general secretary, Xi Jinping, has officially started his third term. In order to further bolster control over Chinese society and persuade CCP members and the Chinese people as a whole, including minority groups and Taiwanese, to share the same “dream,” Xi’s own speech and the personnel announcements made so far have demonstrated a strong emphasis on national security. Furthermore, despite the fact that Xi has also highlighted the need for unity, personnel announcements have made it clear that this “unity” is instead characterised by everyone pulling in the same direction and backing Xi Jinping.

First, a collaborative leadership structure was upheld since the general secretary system was preferred over the party chairperson system. No women make for the Central Politburo, and the majority of CCP Central Committee members now are thought to be members of Xi’s group. This may be done to demonstrate that unity implies membership in the Xi group. The decision-making procedure for CCP personnel matters has always been murky, but it is now considerably more so. As an illustration, the Central Politburo now has 24 members, down from the customary 25.

Second, both speeches and personnel announcements have stressed togetherness. This is most likely due to the CCP’s current perception that China’s ambitions of becoming a great modern socialist country by 2049 and a modern socialist country by 2035 are questionable given the global economic downturn, COVID-19, and pressure from the United States and other advanced nations. For this reason, it is attempting to bolster its pro-Xi concept of the oneness of the Chinese people and the party. This is how a sense of crisis is expressing itself.

Third, no replacement has been named. De facto successors would have been the two new members of the Politburo Standing Committee, but there were really four. Other than Xi, the Central Military Commission has no “civilians.” (Xi is listed in the military database.) It is now more likely that Xi Jinping will serve as general secretary for the next ten years as a result of this.

Fourth, several norms were broken, including what seems to be the norms of retiring at 68 and of an ex-vice premier becoming the premier. Of course, it’s conceivable that Li Qiang will serve as vice premier for a while before taking over as premier in March 2023. In any event, at least in terms of personnel issues, the institutionalisation inside the party that had been happening since the times of Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao has crumbled. As a result, China’s “seventh generation” of 50-year-olds, who were primarily born in the 1970s, missed their opportunity to join the Central Politburo.

Fifth, there are concerns with accountability for fiscal and economic matters. Although He Lifeng is still in place, the reformists Li Keqiang, Wang Yang, Hu Chunhua, and others were ousted from office, which weakens the people in command of the economy. Finance and monetary issues are handled by a smaller number of Central Politburo members. The line of “reform and opening up” will be suppressed more the more the phrase “common prosperity for all” is emphasized. In this context, “common” refers to distribution. This will also have implications for foreign policy because cooperation with the West is driven by reform and opening up.

Sixth, although the Party Constitution now includes a few phrases referring to Taiwan, the language hasn’t changed much. By 2049, the goal is to “conquer without fighting.” The stated objective is to integrate Taiwanese society since China sees the Taiwanese as a part of the Chinese people and thinks they would share the same “dream.” To put it another way, they will continue to exert greater military pressure, infiltrate society with cyberattacks and disinformation, impose economic sanctions, and take other similar actions to force Taiwanese society toward unification. The issue is what will happen when Xi Jinping concludes that this strategy is ineffective because at that point he will probably step up military pressure.

Seventh, the issue is how to handle party discontent over these personnel matters, a roughly 20% unemployment rate, the economic slump, and popular discontent with the COVID-19 countermeasures. By directing big data and whole-process democracy and using “national security” as a shield to target troublemakers through digital monitoring and control networks at the most fundamental social level, the Xi administration will likely act preventively against societal unhappiness. However, the “happy surveillance society” can only last as long as the CCP keeps up with its promises of comfort and wealth.