The 20th National CCP Congress: Xi’s Wolf Warrior Politics
By RYAN LEE
This year’s 20th iteration of the National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) was a success for President Xi Jinping on all fronts. He managed to simultaneously cement himself as a strongman president for an unprecedented third term, while removing some of the barriers that might prove problematic in the immediate future.
The CCP National Congress is a party congress held every 5 years that is the public venue for top-level leadership changes in the CCP and the formal setting for making any changes to the CCP’s constitution. A ‘press conference’ of sorts, it is a highly choreographed affair that mainly serves as a platform to announce the direction China hopes to take for the next 5 years.
Each National Congress is an important checkpoint in China’s history and entails important political implications. Each National Congress was a progressively larger and grander spectacle, starting with humble beginnings in the 1st National Congress which only had 13 representatives, which was cut short and moved to a rented tourist boat due to police harassment. Other important editions of the National Congress were the 8th, when The Great Leap Forward was put into effect and the 12th, when the path of modernisation was charted out.
Beyond each National Congress acting as a platform to promulgate policies, leadership renewal of the CCP officially happens here -- signalling the rising stars and sunset politicians. Xi used the opportunity to pack the Politburo Standing Committee with loyalists Cai Qi, Ding Xuexiang, Li Xi, and Li Qiang, removing any opposition or clear successors.
Beyond leadership changes, the National Congress also provides an opportunity to rewrite the CCP’s manifesto. As expected, Xi made use of the 20th Congress to make amendments that further cemented himself in power. This was largely already choreographed during the 19th Congress, “Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era” was written into the party’s constitution. This marked the first instance since “Mao Zedong Thought” as added by Mao, that a living party leader has directly added an ideology named after himself into the party constitution. This time, Xi further added the concepts of “Two Establishes and Two Safeguards” which directly reinforced his rule by firstly establishing and then safeguarding Xi’s status as a “Core Leader” of the CCP.
Writing ‘the explicit support of Xi’ into the constitution is an important move given the confirmation during the National Congress that Xi would not be handing over the reins of the Presidency of China in leadership renewal. By doing this, Xi places himself at the centre of the CCP, sending the clear message that the lack of support for Xi equates to the lack of support to the CCP. This sort of strongman politics and building of a cult of personality is largely unseen in Chinese politics since the days of Mao Zedong. Xi has been likened to Mao in this regard.
Previous Chinese leaders have walked a careful tightrope to avoid direct comparisons with Mao, maintaining that they do agree with Maoist thought (to appease the CCP), while gradually removing the grip Mao’s Cult of Personality has over the Chinese consciousness. Deng Xiaoping, even in his overhaul of the Chinese economy with policies that seemingly ran counter to the Maoist doctrine, was careful to distance himself from Mao, while emphasizing that “Deng Xiaoping Theory” was very much in line with “Mao Zedong Thought”. Meanwhile, Xi seems perfectly fine to disrupt the status quo by launching into this direct and aggressive approach to write himself into the CCP canon.
Further, in a shock to the world, Hu Jintao, the former President of China prior to Xi, was removed from his seat midway through the National Congress. While it was explained away as ‘health issues’, it is abundantly obvious to anyone that saw the video of Hu’s removal that he was blindsided and was clearly stunned. Further, as if to confirm our suspicions, any reports of Hu and the incident of his removal were purged from Chinese social media in an apparent attempt to “disappear” him.
Xi has removed the Old Guard who acted as both his checks and balances as well as a reminder of the progress that China has made towards liberalisation. Xi’s thoughts are now synonymous with China as a whole, and we can only expect Xi’s grip to become even tighter as he continues to increase the number of young loyal recruits, and while the Old Guard continue to age and leave office.
Image: Flickr/ sarah Al Suhaimi