Chinese President Xi Jinping and other top leaders will meet in Beijing next month for a closed-door summit expected to underscore Mr. Xi’s firm grip on power as the country faces economic uncertainty and growing tensions with the West.
At the meeting of the Communist Party’s Central Committee, officials will discuss a “key resolution on the major achievements and historical experience of the party’s 100 years of endeavours,” state media reported this week. Such historical resolutions have only been adopted twice before. Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping both used them to consolidate power and remake the party as they envisioned it.
Mr. Xi is expected to defy precedent and secure a third term as leader during the party congress next year. He has already done away with the collective leadership and consensus-based policy making pursued by his predecessor, Hu Jintao. And he has largely sidelined Premier Li Keqiang and taken on so many roles that he has been dubbed “the chairman of everything.”
Since reaching the pinnacle of Chinese politics in 2013, Mr. Xi has also used an anti-corruption campaign to purge rivals and shore up popular support while increasing the party’s role in both the economy and everyday life, after decades of retreat under previous leaders.
Ryan Manuel, the managing director of Official China, a Hong Kong-based research firm, said news of the summit demonstrates Mr. Xi’s strength within the party, despite reports of infighting and pushback on some parts of his reform program.
“If you can get a historical resolution through, that would indicate that you don’t really have problems with your power base,” Dr. Manuel said.
Mr. Xi has faced rumours of resistance within the party before, even as his power only grew stronger and support for his agenda more vocal. Critics who have spoken out, such as former Central Party School professor Cai Xia, have been imprisoned or forced to flee overseas.
“Over the course of his tenure, the regime has degenerated further into a political oligarchy bent on holding on to power through brutality and ruthlessness,” Ms. Cai wrote earlier this year. “It has grown even more repressive and dictatorial. A personality cult now surrounds Xi, who has tightened the party’s grip on ideology and eliminated what little space there was for political speech and civil society.”
Another former Central Party School official, Deng Yuwen, has suggested that a new historical resolution could empower Mr. Xi to address his internal critics and rationalize abandoning the post-Mao consensus on term limits and economic reforms.
The last time the party adopted a resolution on history was in 1981, when Deng Xiaoping used it to renounce many of the missteps of the Mao era, particularly the Cultural Revolution, which “led to domestic turmoil and brought catastrophe to the party, the state and the whole people.”
Mr. Xi’s family suffered greatly during the Cultural Revolution. His father was expelled from the party and jailed, and one of his sisters was “persecuted to death” by the Red Guards. But as leader, Mr. Xi has emphasized the need for a “correct outlook on history,” one that downplays previous missteps in favour of a narrative of constant success on the path to the “great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation.”
A new historical resolution is unlikely to go so far as rehabilitating the Cultural Revolution, most observers agree, but it could recast it as more of a blip. It could also provide an official take on the Tiananmen Square Massacre of 1989 – one that supports the party’s hostility toward democratic reform.
The resolution could also set the stage for more sweeping changes in Mr. Xi’s third term. In recent months, he has spoken of the need to advance “common prosperity,” addressing the rampant inequality that has emerged alongside China’s economic boom. The push has coincided with a major crackdown on the tech sector, which has created many of the country’s billionaires; increased pressure on companies to donate more to charities; and efforts to reform the real estate market, which have been expedited after the near-collapse of developer Evergrande.
“Currently, the world is facing a prominent issue of income inequality,” Mr. Xi said in a recent speech published by the party journal Qiushi last week. “In some countries, the wealth gap and middle-class collapse have aggravated social divisions, political polarization and populism, giving a profound lesson to the world. China must make resolute efforts to prevent polarization, advance common prosperity and realize social harmony and stability.”
But while Mr. Xi envisions a more equal distribution of wealth, his is no socialist transformation. He has warned against the “trap of ‘welfarism’ that encourages laziness” and attacked the “lying flat” movement, which sees young people abandoning the striving, consumerist goals of modern China and pursuing a more low-key, less-stressful lifestyle.
There also are hints of a more radical transformation not yet openly endorsed by Mr. Xi.
In August, writer Li Guangman argued that “a monumental change is taking place in China.” The previously little-known blogger’s article was widely republished by state media, including the People’s Daily, the mouthpiece of the Communist Party, indicating at least tacit support for his arguments at high levels within the party.
According to Mr. Li, China’s economic, financial, cultural and political spheres are already undergoing “a profound revolution,” one that will “wash away all the dust.”
“Capital markets will no longer be paradise for get-rich-quick capitalists, cultural markets will no longer be heaven for sissy-boy stars, and news and public opinion will no longer be in the position of worshipping Western culture,” he wrote. “It is a return to the revolutionary spirit, a return to heroism, a return to courage and righteousness.”
This is all occurring in “direct response to an increasingly fraught and complex international landscape,” he continued, “and a direct response to the savage and violent attacks that the U.S. has already begun to launch against China.”
Such “wolf warrior” rhetoric was also included in the announcement of the coming historical resolution, a reference to China’s new, assertive style of diplomacy, noted Patricia Thornton, a professor of Chinese politics at the University of Oxford.
Repeated references to “bullying” and “enslavement” of China by foreign powers “underscore the persistence of a threatening international environment China has historically faced, and it is likely that the resolution will emphasize that such threats continue in the present, necessitating a vigorous, robust and pro-active defence of China’s national interests moving forward,” she said.
“Previous resolutions on Party history,” Ms. Thornton added on Twitter, “heralded fairly dramatic shifts in Party policy and practice, but did not appear to pit China and the CCP against the world.”
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