The 19th Party Congress: Clearing Factional Fog and Xi Jinping’s ‘Doctrine’

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Although it may not be entirely correct to reduce the Chinese politics to binary factional power struggle, however, if we glance over the powerful Politburo Standing Committee of the Communist Party of China (CPC) we find Xi and Wang Qishan against the heavy odds from ‘Shanghai clique’ once headed by Jiang Zemin. In the same vein, Xi battles it out in Politburo with the ‘League faction’ once headed by Hu Jintao. It becomes clear that factions are formulated by affiliation, patronage and experience. It is interesting to note that the existence of factions has been acknowledged by the CPC News Agency, Xinhua in some of its commentaries in January 2015. On 3 January 2015, the Agency flagged out three such factions, namely “mishubang” (secretaries gang), “shiyoubang” (petroleum gang) and “shanxibang” (Shanxi gang). It pointed out that while the man behind first two gangs was once powerful petroleum and security czar, Zhou Yongkang; Ling Jihua, former director of the Central Committee General Office was behind the “Shanxi gang.” Another commentary on CPC website on January 5th once again referred to these gangs and factions and stated that “Beneath the old tigers, there are big tigers, and behind the big tigers there are foxes and rats. Where gangs form, there are also gang lords; where there are cliques, there are also ‘mountain tops,’ and these kinds of ‘mountain tops’ are very harmful to our party.”

Undoubtedly, Xi Jinping with the help of Wang Qishan a close Xi ally and Secretary of the powerful Central Commission for Discipline Inspection (CCDI), fought the ‘tigers and flies’ during the first five years of his regime, thus consolidating his position fairly well. Recent figures released by China’s state media, say that in the last five years, 1.4 million party officials have been investigated for corruption. Some of the fallen ‘tigers’ are  Zhou Yongkang, Bo Xilai, Guo Boxiong, Xu Caihou, Ling Jihua, Fang Fenghui, and Sun Zhengcai. Notable is the fall of Guo Boxiong, Xu Caihou, and now the removal of General Fang Fenghui, former head of the CMC’s Joint Staff Department, and General Zhang Yang, former head of the commission’s Political Work Department. Xi has replaced General Fang with General Li Zuocheng, and appointed Admiral Miao Hua, as head of the Political Work Department thus further consolidating his position and hold over the People’s Liberation Army (PLA). We will further see huge churnings in composition of the Central Military Commission, headed by Xi Jinping.

Although Xi Jinping has not associated himself with any faction, yet analysts are of the view that Xi has gradually created a ‘Fujian faction.’ The appointments of Wang Xiaohong, vice mayor of Beijing and since 2016 vice-minister of the Ministry of Public Security; Deng Weiping, secretary of the Party Disciplinary Commission of the Public Security Ministry, and Chen Min’er, party secretary of Chongqing are some of the people who have worked for Xi Jinping in various capacities. While Wang and Deng have never been nominated to the Central Committee, but Chen is likely to be inducted in the Politburo this time. It is believed that Xi may groom Chen as his ultimate successor, albeit it is too early to say as Xi has 5 more years to go.

China under Xi Jinping has done extremely well if the statistics are to be believed. Most outstanding is China’s burgeoning economic strength which was catapulted to $11.2 trillion from around $8.5 trillion when he took over in 2012. Per capita income of China rose from around $6000 to over $8000 in recent times, a further 55.5 million people were alleviated from poverty. This is impressive, for the global economic recovery remains sluggish and countries across the globe reels under economic recession. More importantly, when China herself is undergoing economic readjustments and striking a balance between manufacturing, services and agriculture. The Hi-speed rail tracks were expanded from 9,300 kilometers in 2012 to over 22,000 kilometers at present. In the same vein, China ranked first in the world in having constructed state of the art expressway totaling 123,000 kilometers. China’s internet consumers also jumped to 730 million from a mere 420 million in 2012, implying that at present around 53% of the Chinese population is wired. Needless to say, China has maintained its leading position as world’s largest exporter, producer of food grains, steel, coal, electricity etc. Very cleverly, Xi Jinping unfolded a development agenda that forced the reformers as well as the conservatives to lend their support to him. For example, his pet project the Chinese Dream that advocates rejuvenation of the Chinese nation (making China rich and powerful) has been a hit in China albeit has raised nationalistic tendencies too. In the same vein, Xi took the notion of ‘Silk Road Economic Belt and the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road’ an idea of the reformists that is been increasingly seen as a game changer as far as geo-economics and geopolitics across continents is concerned.

Secondly, in order to diminish the influence of Zhou Yongkang’s in China’s security apparatus, in an unprecedented move Xi created National Security Commission, which controls the police, intelligence and judicial apparatuses and became its Chairman. In order to keep the reformists under his command, he created Central Leading Group for Comprehensibly Deepening Reforms and became its head. In order to take ultimate control of the People’s Liberation Army, he reorganised previous seven military regions into five theatre commands, and assumed the title of commander in chief of the PLA. Xi, therefore, has displayed enormous wisdom, patience and ultimate art of statecraft, and has emerged as the strongest leaders of the CPC since Mao Zedong.

 As far as Xi’s legacy is concerned, it has been agreed by the Party that his ideas on China’s governance would be written in the Party Constitution. In the line of Jiang Zemin’s ‘Three Represents’, and Hu Jintao’s ‘Scientific development’, Xi has propunded ‘Four Comprehensives’ that call for comprehensively to build a moderately prosperous society, deepening of the reforms, govern the nationa according to rule of law, and strictly govern the Party. Many have speculated that if the constitution is amended it would include Xi’s ideas as ‘ism’ or ‘thought’ alike. I personally believe, it would neither be ‘ism’ nor ‘thought’ for in the case of the former it will supersede both Mao’s Thought and Deng’s Theory while the later will put him at par with Mao. If at all, the CPC would like him to leave his mark on history, it would be Xi Jinping’s Doctrine, a level up Deng Xiaoping’s theory and notch down the Mao’s thought.