Friday, December 2, 2022

CPC’s power politics and consolidation of Xi’s grip on China

The power struggle among the factions within the Communist Party of China (CPC), the paramount ruling political party of China, became evident to the world as Hu Jintao, the former President and immediate predecessor of the current leader Xi Jinping, was forcefully evicted from the stage in a full media/public glare at the start of the closing session of the 20th National Congress of the CPC at the Great Hall of the People at Beijing this October. While the official position of the CPC was that Hu Jintao had to leave the session to receive medical attention as he was going through a health issue, the footage of the unceremonious exit of the former president that was captured by the media and that eventually went viral clearly suggested that the reason of Hu’s exit from the stage was more than just on health ground.
Hu Jintao no doubt did not appear healthy as he showed up at the 20th National Congress of the CPC, nevertheless examining the footage of the dramatic Hu’s exit revealed two critical facts. First, he was showing reluctance as a steward/security struggled to lift him to lead him out of the stage, and one more steward and one member of the Politburo Standing Committee (PSC) seated on his left side had to join in an effort to successfully ensured that Hu will exit the Hall as the world probably will never know under whose order they were forcefully evicting an elderly Chinese statesman bringing him utter disgrace and humiliation. Second, during the course of the entire on-stage power melee, the remaining officials, including Xi, seated on the stage and the entire delegates inside the Hall remained motionless showing no sign of concern as if they were strictly instructed to remain seated and not to react to the unfolding drama. The reaction of the CPC’s officials and delegates would have been surely different had Hu’s eviction would have been on health grounds.
And if health issue was not the reason for Hu’s forced eviction, the million-dollar question for the world is what could be the possible reason/s and the manner under which Hu was removed with the full presence of both the foreign and domestic media. Within the culture of CPC where politics and power struggles are usually played out behind closed doors, where selection and removal of officials are done in well-guarded secrecy and where media are generally allowed only in party events which are ceremonial in nature for approving the order of the top party leadership, it was extremely unusual that CPC’s 20th Congress saw a sort of a power tussle on the stage between the incumbent leader and his immediate predecessor. If Xi and his loyalists within the CPC were suspicious about the loyalty of Hu, the latter should have not been permitted to take the stage in the first place. Because they knew very well that any sort of glitch on the stage during such a highly publicized and intensely monitored event would invite intense international scrutiny.
One can draw two possible case scenarios for the dramatic turn of events that had taken place at the closing session of the Congress. Firstly, Xi might have been confronted with a last-minute surprise. Remember, this was the session from where CPC’s delegates will be voting for a resolution to give Xi an unprecedented third term to lead the party and the country, a break from the CPC’s tradition of setting term limits for the leaders. And Xi would want nothing less than a unanimous approval from the delegates, and he might have begun to suspect or informed that his immediate predecessor could be on the course to spoil the whole picture of unanimity by showing dissent to the proposed resolution. This should force Xi to take the unprecedented step of removing his predecessor from the stage. The second case scenario could be that the entire drama was a well-scripted one as usual. It was part of Xi’s ploy to humiliate his potential political opponents publicly, and thereby sending a clear message to everyone that dissent and opposition in any form to his leadership, both within CPC and China as a whole, would never be tolerated. This kind of situation, if created, would be a return to Mao’s era authoritarian rule where the purging of political opponents and non-toleration of dissent was a norm.
In any case, Xi had emerged as a big winner from the power politics that had plagued the CPC during the last five decades. After the death of Mao Ze Dong in 1976, although CPC had consolidated its power grip on China, the CPC had become faction-ridden as party men had to compete with each other for power. Two of Xi’s immediate predecessors represented the two most prominent factions within the CPC. Jiang Zemin who ruled China from 1989 to 2002 belongs to an elite faction commonly refers to as the “Shanghai Gang”. Members of this gang are composed of children of former high-ranking officials. Hu Jintao who succeeded Jiang Zemin in 2002 belongs to the “Communist Youth League” whose members are moderates and populists in character. While the Shanghai Gang represents the country’s entrepreneurs and emerging middle class, the Communist Youth League represents the interest of the vulnerable social class such as the farmers, the migrant workers and the urban poor (Anja Manuel. This Brave New World. India, China and the United States. 2016, Page 48).
Xi perfectly manoeuvred the CPC’s power politics as he climbed the ladder of the party’s power pyramid. Originally belong to the Shanghai Gang through his origin he associated himself with the Communist Youth League during his early years of politics. In fact, he belongs to the children of once powerful leaders during Mao’s reign who were all purged for being disloyal to Chairman Mao and the party, in Mao’s version, and were expelled from the seat of power in Beijing and sent to villages to work as farmers. Xi, therefore, has the unique experience of being a son of a high-ranking official who had to live and grow up as a poor farmer in a village. As such, when he was anointed as Hu’s successor in 2012, leaders from both factions sees him as their potential ally whom they can use to assert their authority. Instead, ten years later in 2022 Xi had finished them off, neutralized all factions, dismantled all the power structure of the CPC, rewrote the party’s constitution to suit his interest and he will now rule the party and country along with the group of his loyalists with virtually no oppositions.
The leadership overhaul during the 20th Party Congress also suggested that Xi is yet to anoint any potential candidates to be his successor which indicates that he still has a plan for the party and China well beyond 2027, the year in which the next once-in-five-year National Congress of the CPC will be convened.
Dr. Nsungbemo Ezung, Wokha Town, (ezung_n@yahoo.com)

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