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Chinese President Xi Jinping delivers his speech at the sixth plenary session of the 19th Central Committee of the Communist Party of China in Beijing on Nov. 11, 2021, in this photo released by Xinhua News Agency.Ju Peng/The Associated Press

Leaders of China’s Communist Party passed a resolution this week setting the stage for President Xi Jinping to rule for an unprecedented third term and cementing his place as the most important figure in the party since Mao Zedong.

Members of the party’s Central Committee declared Xi Jinping Thought the “essence of Chinese culture” as they wrapped up a four-day leadership meeting in Beijing. A statement said his political philosophy was “of decisive significance” for “the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation.”

They approved a “historical resolution,” just the third time such a motion has been passed. Previous resolutions were introduced under Mao and Deng Xiaoping, recasting party history and doctrine in their image and securing their legacies.

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While the text of the latest resolution has yet to be released, a communiqué published late Thursday night suggests it puts Mr. Xi, who rose to power in 2012, on par with Mao as a transformational figure, one who will lead China to future greatness.

Mr. Xi’s ability to pass such a resolution, though never in real doubt, shows his absolute control over the Communist Party as he appears poised to buck tradition and seek a third five-year term as leader. Term limits on his post as president were removed in 2018, indicating his intention to stay on, and no obvious successor has been groomed or moved into a senior position, as in the past.

As well as praising Mr. Xi personally, the communiqué also hailed Beijing’s policies across a range of fronts, including its having “firmly implemented ‘patriots ruling Hong Kong’” and “resolutely opposed Taiwan separatists.”

“With regard to foreign affairs, we have advanced major-country diplomacy with Chinese characteristics on all fronts,” the communiqué said. “Through tenacious struggle, the Communist Party of China and the Chinese people have shown the world that the Chinese nation has achieved the tremendous transformation from standing up and growing prosperous to becoming strong.”

Next week, Mr. Xi is expected to meet with U.S. President Joe Biden by video link, the first face-to-face summit between the two leaders since Mr. Biden took office this year. Officials in Washington have been pushing for such a meeting for months, hampered by Mr. Xi’s refusal to leave China during the pandemic.

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“Officials in China and the United States recognize that there is little substitute for direct, leader-level diplomacy. U.S. officials have determined that Chinese diplomats lack the authority to engage in substantive dialogues, since power has become centralized in the hands of Xi,” Carnegie Endowment for International Peace analysts Paul Haenle and Nathaniel Sher wrote this week.

There were signs of thawing this week when climate envoys John Kerry and Xie Zhenhua announced a deal between the U.S. and China to ramp up co-operation in tackling climate change, including cutting methane emissions, phasing out coal consumption and ending illegal deforestation.

“In the area of climate change, there is more agreement between the U.S. and China than divergence, making it an area with huge potential for our co-operation,” Mr. Xie said. “As two major powers, both China and the U.S. shoulder international responsibilities and obligations. We need to think big.”

However, in an address on Thursday to an APEC summit in New Zealand, Mr. Xi was less conciliatory, criticizing U.S. policy in the Asia-Pacific region and warning it “cannot and should not relapse into the confrontation and division of the Cold War era.”

Denouncing attempts to “form small circles on geopolitical grounds,” Mr. Xi appeared to be referencing the new AUKUS alliance between Australia, the United Kingdom and the U.S., which included a new deal to supply nuclear-powered submarines to Canberra, as well as increased engagement by Washington with the Quad grouping of India, Japan and Australia.

Such unwelcome manoeuvring by Washington could be a key topic of the Xi-Biden summit. Mr. Haenle and Mr. Sher wrote that Mr. Xi “will be focused on convincing the U.S. President to return to the status quo ante and reduce diplomatic and economic pressure on China.”

For his part, Mr. Biden will likely press Mr. Xi on the issue of Taiwan, following repeated Chinese aerial sorties around the democratically ruled island and threats to take it by force. He could also raise issues such as the continuing crackdown in Hong Kong and accusations of genocide against Uyghurs in Xinjiang, though Beijing always dismisses any criticism on these topics as interfering in its internal affairs.

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