Ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP) leader Xi Jinping has set out his political strategy for the next five years ahead of his bid for an unprecedented third term in office at the 20th party congress later in the year.
Xi told a high-level political symposium in Beijing this week that the CCP should “focus on deploying strategic tasks and major measures for the next five years.”
“The next five years will be a critical time to start building a socialist modernized country in an all-round way,” Xi told the symposium.
“We must firmly grasp the problem of unbalanced and insufficient development, focus on making up for shortcomings, strengths and weaknesses, consolidate the bottom line, and promote advantages, and study and propose new ideas and new measures to solve problems,” state news agency Xinhua paraphrased him as saying.
Current affairs commentator Xiao Di said Xi’s comments suggest he plans to take China back to a state-controlled, command economy.
“He’s steering China away from the capitalist road, back in the direction of communism,” Xiao told RFA. “That’s why he says the next five years will be a critical period to determine whether CCP rule will last forever.”
“There should be no obstacle to his being re-elected as general secretary [at the 20th party congress],” he said.
Some commentators have suggested that the fact that Xi’s speech to the symposium was given prominent coverage by state news agency Xinhua and the CCP’s official newspaper, the People’s Daily, indicates that Xi will likely get his way.
The timing of the coverage ahead of the secretive annual leadership retreat in the resort town of Beidaihe suggests that Xi may be pre-empting any substantive discussion of his plan to serve a third term at that meeting.
Future political direction
Political scientist Ruan Guohong said the speech was a clear declaration to the outside world that Xi will be re-elected as general secretary of the CCP at the first plenary session of the 20th National Congress.
Ruan said the speech was probably in part a response to international speculation about his political trajectory.
“There has been a lot of speculation [on Xi’s third term] from the outside world lately, both inside China and overseas,” Ruan said.
“But I think he was more likely addressing party elders about China’s future political direction.”
In a conclusive break with the reformist thinking of the 1980s, Xi has already brought in constitutional changes nodded through in March 2018 by China’s rubber-stamp parliament, the National People’s Congress (NPC), removing presidential term limits.
The move has potentially paved the way for indefinite rule by Xi, although it may not yet be a done deal, Ruan said.
“He doesn’t know how things will turn out in future,” Ruan said. “But if he doesn’t manage to get another term in office, then the constitutional amendments will have been meaningless.”
Exiled veteran dissident Wei Jingsheng said state media had been relatively quiet on the topic of Xi’s third term, suggesting fierce political infighting in the corridors of Zhongnanhai.
But Wei also said in a commentary for RFA’s Mandarin Service broadcast before Xi’s speech was reported that the outcome of the 20th party congress was impossible to predict.
“There are all kinds of possibilities,” Wei said. “But there is one outcome that can be predicted, that is, regardless of whether Xi Jinping is re-elected for a third term or not, further division [in party ranks] and the decline of the CCP are inevitable.”
“If Xi Jinping is unsuccessful in his bid for another term, the Xi faction will inevitably be purged,” Wei said. “If it resists, it will rise up in rebellion, which will also be beginning of the end of the CCP.”
“If Xi Jinping is re-elected, his retaliation [against those who opposed him] will force officials to rebel, which is not a bad result for China’s future. We will wait and see,” he said.
Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.