Xi firmly at the helm amid China’s tough times : The Tribune India

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Xi firmly at the helm amid China’s tough times

By endorsing Xi’s loyalists as state councillors, members of the Central Military Commission and in all top appointments, the NPC and CPPCC plenums solidified his authority over the party and the government apparatus. The Government Work Report that outgoing Chinese Premier Li Keqiang presented to the NPC expectedly credited Xi’s leadership as having surmounted the difficulties of the past few years, such as the Covid pandemic.

Xi firmly at the helm amid China’s tough times

SELF-PRAISE: Xi Jinping claims to have lifted the Chinese people out of poverty and wiped out the centuries of humiliation they had suffered. Reuters



Jayadeva Ranade

President, Centre for China Analysis and Strategy

THE plenary sessions of the 14th National People’s Congress (NPC) — China’s version of a parliament — and the 14th Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), China’s top political advisory body, which concluded on March 13, were, as anticipated, a success for President Xi Jinping.

The 2,952 NPC deputies unanimously re-elected Xi for a third term as the President of China. In his first speech after the NPC session, Xi exulted that he was honoured to be elected to “the lofty office of President”. He also claimed to have lifted the people out of poverty and wiped out the centuries of humiliation they had suffered.

Xi is the first leader to be the head of state of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) for so long. Even its ‘Great Helmsman’ Mao Zedong was Chairman for less than five years. By also endorsing Xi’s loyalists as state councillors, members of the Central Military Commission and in all top appointments, the NPC and CPPCC plenums solidified Xi’s authority over the party and government apparatus and confirmed that Xi has established himself as the unrivalled pre-eminent leader of the PRC. To reinforce that message, China’s official media, including the Global Times, acclaimed (March 12): “Xi Jinping’s unanimous election as Chairman of the Central Military Commission has greatly inspired and motivated the whole party, the whole army and the whole nation to embark on a new journey.”

One key appointment was that of former Shanghai Party Secretary and long-time Xi associate Li Qiang as Premier. Though there were three ‘nos’ and eight abstentions in his election, this would have been because he complied with Politburo member Sun Chunlan’s instructions to implement the centre’s stringent ‘zero-Covid’ policy and locked down Shanghai for three months. Having been Governor and party secretary of Zhejiang, Jiangsu and Shanghai — three of China’s wealthiest provinces — Li Qiang, however, has the credentials for the position of Premier where his primary task will be to revive the country’s economy.

Interesting was the appointment of former Politburo Standing Committee member Han Zheng as PRC vice-president in place of Wang Qishan, who retired. Han Zheng has not been regarded as particularly close to Xi and his elevation may indicate an element of compromise. It may have been a move intended to keep the discontented Jiang Zemin faction from creating complications in the months ahead. In any event, the post of PRC vice-president is not powerful. Chinese observers have suggested that Li Qiang’s appointment could also help assuage this group.

Other key appointments show that national security remains a high priority for the Chinese leadership. These are the elevation of Minister of Public Security Wang Xiaohong as a member of the powerful CCP CC Secretariat and promotion and appointment of General Liu Zhenli as Head of the PLA Joint Staff Department. General Zhang Youxia (72) and 65-year-old General He Weidong were also confirmed as Vice-Chairmen of the State Central Military Commission. In addition and because of the apprehensions stemming from China’s worsening international environment, the NPC raised the national defence budget by 7.2 per cent. For the past two years, the increase was restricted to under 6.5 per cent.

Besides, while reports of a major reorganisation of the security establishment were persistent, none has been announced. Reports filtering out of Beijing suggest that there are robust differences regarding which departments should come within the purview of the new setup and who should control it. Politburo member and Xi’s long-time secretary Ding Xuexiang and the Minister of Public Security Wang Xiaohong — both Xi loyalists — are contenders for the top job in the new setup.

Apart from key personnel appointments, the Government Work Report that outgoing Premier Li Keqiang presented to the NPC on March 4 is important. The 29-page report, which included 14 mentions of Xi, expectedly credited his leadership as having surmounted the difficulties — like the Covid pandemic — of the past few years. In his hour-long speech, Li Keqiang lauded Xi as “the core of the party leadership” seven times stressing that, “We owe our achievements…to the strong leadership of the Party Central Committee with comrade Xi at its core and the sound guidance of Xi Jinping Thought.” However, in what many analysts interpret as a note of caution, Li Keqiang conveyed a cryptic message to his staff: “While people work, heaven watches. Heaven has eyes.”

The report outlined the plans for the coming period and indicates the Chinese Communist Party’s priorities. It keeps the spotlight on security and development and significant is its emphasis on the ‘unpredictable’ and ‘grim’ difficulties that lie ahead for China. Echoing Xi Jinping’s warnings of the past some months, it warned of the probability of ‘black swan’ and ‘grey rhinoceros’ events. Anticipating problems ahead, Li Keqiang urged China to gear up for tougher times. Another indicator of the economic difficulties was the announcement that the number of central government employees would be reduced by 5 per cent. In his first press conference after the NPC on March 13, the new Premier, Li Qiang, too was cautious about the economy and said achieving the 5 per cent GDP growth target would be difficult as the base was high.

The report, which outlines China’s goals and priorities for the next five years, made it clear that the economy, security and agriculture would be the priorities. Predictably, all their budgets were increased along with that of science and technology, China’s another key priority.


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