Buoyed by his success in securing a third term as President and putting his loyalists in top positions, Xi Jinping is now consolidating his position. Since the 20th National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) in October 2022, China’s official media has been in overdrive, focusing on a few themes intended to further bolster Xi’s stature. This includes highlighting Xi’s domestic policy initiatives.
Major official media outlets such as the People’s Daily, the Guangming Daily and the party’s leading theoretical fortnightly journal Qiu Shi (‘Seeking Truth’) are publishing articles, including signed commentaries, on these subjects almost daily. Many are authored by senior officials and party secretaries of provinces keen on flagging their loyalty — described in the days of Mao as “waving the Red flag to show the Red flag!” The themes are picked up by party organisations at the centre and those in the provinces, with provincial party organisations and congresses passing resolutions reiterating them.
The main themes aimed at the domestic audience are the “Two Safeguards” and “Two Establishes”, both of which go together. The others include ethnic unity, “common prosperity” and the latest, “Chinese-style modernisation”.
The “Two Safeguards” and “Two Establishes” essentially concretise Xi’s position and warn cadres and CCP members against challenging his position as the “core of the leadership.”
The “Two Establishes” are: “To establish the status of Comrade Xi Jinping as the core of the Party’s Central Committee and of the whole Party” and “To establish the guiding role of Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese characteristics for the New Era.”
The “Two Safeguards” are: “To Safeguard the ‘core’ status of General Secretary Xi Jinping within the CCP” and “To safeguard the centralised authority of the Party.”
The slogan “Two Safeguards” was first coined in 2018, and concretised at the 20th Party Congress in October 2022 when it was incorporated in the Party Constitution. Within a fortnight, on October 30, the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) watchdog anti-corruption body the Central Discipline Inspection Commission (CDIC), whose remit has enlarged to include monitoring violations of party discipline, disclosed that a senior provincial cadre had, in the first such instance, been charged with “betrayal” of the “Two Establishes”.
This signalled that disloyalty to Xi will attract punitive disciplinary action by the party. Virtually every party resolution and articles by senior officials now mention the “Two Safeguards” and “Two Establishes”.
Ethnic unity has been the catchphrase of the CCP since 2017 when Xi emphasised the need to bring China’s ethnic minorities into the Han cultural mainstream. It coincided with Xi assuming the chairmanship of the Central Small Leading Group (CSLG) on the United Front in 2016. He promptly doubled the budget and personnel strength of the United Front Work Department (UFWD), which is in charge of ethnic affairs work and supervises non-CCP entities. ‘Inspection’ visits by senior CCP officials, including the chairman of the CPPCC and director of the UFWD, to ethnic minority areas and autonomous regions increased.
At the 20th Party Congress in 2021, the head of the UFWD was elevated to the Politburo, indicating the higher priority now accorded to the UFWD.
Meanwhile, measures such as making ‘putonghua’, commonly referred to as Mandarin, the primary language of instruction in the ethnic minority schools, making Chinese the language for examinations for government jobs, etc., are continuing.
Additionally, the CCP is replacing the histories of China’s ethnic minorities with revised versions approved by the Chinese central government.
These measures have triggered resentment among the ethnic minorities. At the same time, Xi has progressively reduced the representation of ethnic minorities in the CCP bodies as well as the PLA.
“Common prosperity” is the other initiative of Xi aimed at rectifying the widening rural-urban income imbalance, rural-urban development inequalities and improving the Gini coefficient. The term “common prosperity” was pronounced by Xi in 2021. By then, the Gini ratio had grown to 57.7. This, Xi felt, would adversely impact the CCP’s legitimacy and claim to leadership as also potentially destabilise his position.
In a bid to reassure Chinese businessmen, China’s new Premier Li Qiang has sought to downplay the emphasis on “common prosperity”. Official newspapers like the People’s Daily, the Guangming Daily and the Economic Daily, regularly publish commentaries and articles explaining common prosperity and stressing that it does not mean the redistribution of wealth by taking assets away from the people.
Entrepreneurs and businessmen have, nevertheless, not been assured and inquiries by wealthy Chinese wanting to immigrate has soared in the past two years.
Estimates are that they are poised to move out nearly $50 billion. Xi, however, is adamant that income inequalities have to be reduced. “Common prosperity” was reiterated in the Work Report at the 20th Party Congress and again at the National People’s Congress (NPC) plenum last month.
These measures are all intended to consolidate the leadership role of the Chinese Communist Party as well as stave off potential challenges to Xi. Nonetheless, China’s dire economic situation, low growth rate and rising unemployment have contributed to widespread popular dissatisfaction.
While Xi is trying to arrest the economic slowdown and raise the people’s living standards to the pre-pandemic levels, there is another evidence of the discontent within the CCP.
In addition to tightened controls by Xi on leading cadres, including Politburo members, numerous articles in the official media mention the existence of “double-faced” cadres, “political liars” and “political gangs” or “circles”, suggesting that groups opposed to Xi exist in the CCP..
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