Teaching Comparative Government and Politics

Thursday, November 03, 2016

Core leader, defined

New York Times reporter, Chris Buckley, describes what he takes "core leader" to mean in China.

Xi Jinping Is China’s ‘Core’ Leader: Here’s What It Means
China’s president, Xi Jinping, got a lift when the Communist Party gave him the title of “core leader” at a party meeting last week. But what does that mean for Mr. Xi and China’s political future?

Is it a big deal for Mr. Xi to be called “core leader”?

President Xi
It is. The title doesn’t come with particular powers, but it gives Mr. Xi special stature and sends an intimidating signal that he should not be crossed…

Mr. Xi had already built up a lot of power since he became the national leader in 2012. But he says he is in the middle of a hard, long-term struggle to transform China’s economy, streamline the military and clean up the Communist Party. Mr. Xi’s new title is meant to reinforce his authority to push through policies in the face of doubts and foot dragging.

The term “core leader” goes back only a few decades, and has been given to four leaders: Mao Zedong, Deng Xiaoping, Jiang Zemin and now Mr. Xi…

Does this mean that Mr. Xi is as powerful as Mao or Deng?

Not by a long shot. Mr. Xi is a formidable leader, but in a different way from those two men.

Mao and Deng established their tremendous personal authority through decades of revolutionary struggle and war…

But Mr. Xi’s power is less personal than Mao’s or Deng’s. By the time Mr. Xi rose in the party, Chinese politics had become more settled and tied to procedures, and he has been skilled at creating and remaking rules and institutions to magnify his power. He has done that, for example, by creating leading groups under him to make policy, and by giving sharper teeth to the party’s discipline agency…

Why do it now?

Officials and the state news media have said China is facing daunting economic challenges and foreign policy tensions, and needs a singularly strong core leader to steer the country through difficult changes. They also say the status is meant to help Mr. Xi’s fight against corruption…

But another reason, unmentioned by the officials, is the coming leadership changes. Mr. Xi is near the end of his first five years in power, and a party congress next year must appoint a new lineup to serve under him in his next five years…

What should we look out for?

First, how will the campaign to acclaim him as core leader play out? How enthusiastically will provincial leaders join the campaign?…

Also, pay attention to who is promoted leading up to the party congress next year. Which officials will be assigned to cities and provinces that give them a good shot at joining the elite Politburo and its Standing Committee?…

Finally, will Mr. Xi’s power provoke opposition in the elite? Some officials and businesspeople complain about Mr. Xi’s hard-line ideology and policies against corruption, which make life harder even for clean officials. But so far, there are no signs of that frustration’s coalescing into high-level opposition…

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