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The 6th Plenary session of the 19th Central Committee was recently concluded in Beijing between November 8 and November 11, 2021. The session was attended by 151 alternate members and 197 members of the Central Committee. Party Plenums are seen as important events which highlight the direction which the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) will adopt in the following years, while the 6th Plenums are especially important because they are generally used to introduce the next generation of leaders by the CCP.


The major task during this Plenum was to approve the Resolution on Major Achievements and Historical Experience of the CPC’s 100 Years of Endeavors. This is just the third such document to be approved by the Central Committee in the last 100 years of the CCP. This does underscore the importance of the Resolution and the extent to which it is being discussed and analysed. The first such resolution was introduced  by Mao Zedong in 1945 and the second by Deng Xiaoping in 1981. The fact that Xi is only the third leader to undertake this act has actually elevated his position.


The Resolution is also heavily focussed on glorifying the achievements of Xi Jinping and turns a blind eye towards the major economic and demographic challenges which the CCP face today. It states that the country “made historic achievements and undergone historic transformations” while stating that “Under Mao, Deng and now Xi, the Chinese nation has ushered in a great leap from standing up and getting rich to becoming strong”. The Resolution also calls Xi the “main innovator of the Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era”.


The Resolution also states “resolutely upholding Comrade Xi Jinping's core position on the Central Committee and in the Party as a whole and upholding the Central Committee' authority and its centralized, unified leadership to ensure that all Party members act in unison”.


One of the major takeaways from the 6th Plenum is that Xi Jinping has ensured a third term for himself as the President, which will be officially approved during the 20th Party Congress which will be held in the second half of 2022. Xi had already modified the Party Constitution which removed the two term limit on Presidential post during the National People’s Congress in 2018.


This development has led to a lot of debate regarding the similarities between Mao and Xi and whether the Chinese Politics is moving towards ‘personality’ politics again. On the surface of it, it does appear that Xi is trying to secure his position and ‘cult’ within the ranks of the CCP. By not grooming or identifying the next generation of leaders (which had been the norm for the last two generations of leaders), he has moved away from the idea of orderly transition of power. The idea of orderly transition of power was set in the Constitution by Deng Xiaoping as a way to safeguard the CCP’s position because of the challenges faced by China under Mao (the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution). Deng Xiaoping understood how without an order of leadership transition, the country, economy and people can be exposed to chaos and uncertainty, which in turn can reduce the legitimacy and control of the CCP. He believed that a term limit for the President and an age limit for the members joining the Politburo will help in building a legacy of leadership.


Given this backdrop, the drive to secure position for life as the President of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) and the General Secretary of the CCP can appear to be a difficult challenge. One of the major goals set forth by Xi is the successful completion of the 100 years of the PRC in 2049. Though it appears far, Xi seems to have undertaken it as his task to make sure that China is strong and CCP is stronger in position. It appears that he is unable to trust a leader who can successfully usher the path of achieving this goal.


On July 1, 2021 the centenary of the establishment of the CCP was celebrated in a grand fashion at the Tiananmen Square. Xi in his speech while discussing the establishment of a moderately prosperous society said, “This means that we have brought about a historic resolution to the problem of absolute poverty in China, and we are now marching in confident strides toward the second centenary goal of building China into a great modern socialist country in all respects”. In the same speech while asserting the centrality of the CCP, Xi said that the attempts to hurt the Party in anyway will not succeed and the people of China are committed to the CCP. Such statements further highlight the challenge which Xi faces today, the need to keep the centrality of the Party and ideology intact and relevant.


Xi today has a number of challenges to counter and overcome. The Covid 19 pandemic has adversely affected the Chinese and the global economies. In order to continue to the domestic growth rates Beijing will have to look for newer ways of strengthening the economy. China today is also facing a major demographic challenge which can be regarded as a result of the ‘One-China Policy’, which was followed for decades. In addition, Xi has undertaken a major task to root out corruption within the Party. Corruption has had an  adverse effect on the image and position of the CCP as it has harmed the image of the Party in the eyes of the people. Xi is also seen to be very assertive towards the Chinese periphery of Tibet and Xinjiang as well as Hong Kong and Taiwan. Stronger posturing has been the norm under Xi Jinping. Some of the major policy changes, like the introduction of the National Security Law, have been undertaken to strengthen the control of the CCP and reduce any space available for dissent or protests.


Xi has also undertaken major tasks to change the narratives about the history of the CCP. There are major changes under way in school text books and how the Party today looks at some of these historical ‘mistakes’. According to Alice Ekman of the European Union Institute for Security Studies, “"Xi Jinping has already started to rewrite the history of the Party in school books, universities, and the press... greatly reducing the failures -- Great Leap Forward, Cultural Revolution, and glorifying his action as General Secretary of the Party”.


Given this backdrop one can conclude that though it may appear that Xi is following Mao’s path of building a strong ‘personality’ leadership, one cannot ignore the question as to why he is doing so. The domestic and international scenario do call for a debate on this issue. One needs to discuss if the centralization of power by Xi Jinping is a result of confidence or his doubts regarding the future of the CCP. Is Xi accumulating power because he believes that he is only one who can pave the right path for the CCP and keep it relevant? Such belief can also be rooted in ideas that the next generation of the CCP members are not capable or committed to the future of the Party and Xi believes that only he can correct the problems existing within the Chinese system and lead China on the path of ‘national rejuvenation’.


Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article are personal.