Teaching Comparative Government and Politics

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Chairman Xi?

For the past decade, power struggles and/or consensus among the top party leaders in China have meant that the Party and the country were run by a committee. President Xi Jinping appears to be a leader more like Deng Xiaoping. How did Chinese politics work during that rise?

China's Xi Jinping: What has he achieved in his first year?
Before Xi Jinping came to power, some questioned whether he would be able to rule effectively. At the time, the Communist Party appeared to be paralysed by infighting.

But that did not hinder Xi Jinping. He seized his position at the top of China's ruling Communist Party with gusto.

In a year, the confident Mr Xi has made remarkable strides. He is sitting at the forefront of the country's most ambitious economic and social reform plan in decades.

China also has a new vision in the form of Mr Xi's "China dream", the idea that Chinese citizens can attain national glory if they work as a collective…
Xi in the middle of the standing standing committee

Arguably, the president's first order of business has been to consolidate his own power.

For the past two decades, China has been run as a collective by a team of men sitting on the state's elite Politburo Standing Committee. Now, few doubt that Xi Jinping has elevated himself above the shoulders of his colleagues, like China's early leaders Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping.

When the government unveiled its much-anticipated reforms in November, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang was expected play a key role in the plan's formulation. China's premier customarily handles domestic matters - economic policy in particular.

Instead, Xi Jinping's name appeared frequently throughout the reform blueprint.

Notably, Mr Xi appointed himself to major new committees guiding national security and the country's restructuring process. Two weeks ago, it was announced that the president would also head a third group overseeing China's internet sector…

Xi Jinping benefits from the fact that he is surrounded by colleagues from the same political faction within the Communist Party.

"Xi Jinping holds the majority of the top leadership, the Politburo Standing Committee," explains Cheng Li. Only Premier Li Keqiang belongs to a different political faction, as a protégé of former President Hu Jintao.

"The six versus one ratio majority really consolidated his power and allowed him to do what he wants."

Dangers lie within Mr Xi's decision to stand alone at the top of the party.

"He's taking a risk by weakening Li Keqiang's role," says David Zweig, professor of social science at Hong Kong University of Science and Technology. "There's nowhere to shuffle the blame."

If that concern worries Xi Jinping, it has not stopped him from executing a rigorous anti-corruption campaign aimed at his government colleagues…

A fear of political instability is pushing forward the Communist Party clean-up. Xi Jinping has worked to boost his own power, but he is also striving to safeguard the party's future…

Xi Jinping's fear of instability in China also explains his intolerance of political opposition. Before he came to power, many Chinese liberals hoped he would tolerate more open debate and greater freedom of expression.

Instead, the opposite appears to be true…

The speed at which Xi Jinping accumulated power and the ease at which he uses it can be traced to his political pedigree, Cheng Li explains. The president is a "princeling", the son of one of the Communist Party's founding members.

"A princeling has a sense of ownership of the country," Mr Cheng says of Mr Xi and his closest allies. "Both Hu Jintao and Wen Jiabao, the leaders who led China for the past 10 years, came from humble family backgrounds."

They were seen as managers, but the "owners" of the system find it easier to fix some of the country's problems, Mr Cheng believes…

Last week, China's distant second in command, Premier Li Keqiang, opened this year's parliamentary session with a two-hour speech outlining the government's work…

But few will doubt that the person behind the scenes is Xi Jinping. In just over a year, he has reshaped China's political structure, bringing it back to its early Communist roots. Once again, one man sits at the top.

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