Last Thursday, the Chinese Communist Party’s Central Committee elevated President Xi Jinping to “core” leader, a title that only Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping have held. Xi, after being elected Secretary of the CP in 2012, President of the State, and Head of the powerful Central Military Commission, which makes him commander-in-chief of the armed forces, has now reached a new title that lifts him to the level of the other two immortals.
In spite the fact that the term “core” does not denote particular powers, “it demonstrates to potential rivals that Mr. Xi stands above the pack in a way few modern Chinese leaders have. Officials up and down the country will face a welter of propaganda and study sessions demanding that they demonstrate their loyalty to Mr. Xi by acclaiming his new status,” Chris Buckley explains from Beijing.
In reality, the situation is much worse. But the otherwise excellent correspondent from China could not say so without risking Chinese authorities taking his accreditation away. Mao Zedong, for instance, moved into the position of absolute power as the “core” of the Communist Party, and his propaganda team called him the Great Helmsman and the Red Sun. The rays of the Red Sun were a guaranty for the revolutionary cause, and the beating heart of the Great Helmsman was enough for the survival of China. It did not matter how many people had to die to achieve that goal. And they did. During the Great Leap Forward and Cultural Revolution, they died by the millions. Both goals were wrong.
It was Deng Xiaoping who created the term “core” leader. He gave it to Mao — who had tried to destroyed him twice — not because he was grateful to him, but because he needed it for himself. Xiaoping needed extra power to protect himself while carrying on economic reforms that included the Tiananmen Square Massacre in 1989. But Deng made it. In a few decades, China has become an economic behemoth that wants to push the United States over a cliff. Deng’s simple twist from ideological to profit-oriented thinking was enough to turn the wheel of world history.
Now, why does Xi Jinping need to be moved to the “core” of the party and the state that he already commands? The reason is exactly the same as the two previous cases — to get that little extra power that brings him closer to the kind of absolute leadership that only the pope and Kim Jong Un have today. To ascribe him the aura of immortality that will enable him to accomplish his mission. What this mission is, we might be able see better in the future. But there is no doubt that, in order to be able to put himself at the “core” — a position that protects him from the banal power struggle — he needed to share his vision with other Chinese leaders who conceded this special power to him. This was the last time that Xi Jinping had to truly negotiate. There is no doubt that this move will further erode the notion of collective leadership that has been set as the norm in Chinese politics since 2000.
So what’s the plan? According to my experience, Xi Jinping did not get the carte blanche that Mao took for himself. At least, not for the time being. According to the latest news coming from Beijing, it seems that that Xi intends to go even further in his attempt for an even stronger sweep against corruption.
Xinhua, the official news agency calls for “Supervision [that] will ensure Party organizations perform their due duties, that all members play vanguard and exemplary roles and leading officials are loyal, clean and accountable.
The main targets of supervision are the CPC’s top organs and officials, particularly senior officials.”
In plain English, Xi Jinping now has the tools to go ahead and clean the party from top to bottom. Will he use corruption to do it? If so, then he — much like Mao, who, after the Cultural Revolution, was the only active writer left the country — will have the privilege of remaining the only corrupt official left in present-day China. He might also use corruption to go against what is left of his adversaries among the retired leadership, like former President Jiang Zemin.
Or, might he clean away the corruption first, and then move to the other topic later? Some of this we will be able to understand better by autumn next year, when the 19th Party Congress takes place in Beijing and the highest body of the party confirms Xi Jinping for the next five years and the completely new Politburo is nominated. Reading those new names, we will be able to judge how deep Xi Jinping will bite into the apple.
In the meantime, according to Reuters, at least some Chinese web users have greeted the news with irony and sarcasm by posting messages that praise Xi as “mighty Uncle Xi” — echoing an expression used to greet an emperor. “’With Uncle Xi as the party’s core, our Chinese dream will definitely be realized,’ wrote one user, referring to a broad, vaguely defined policy of Xi’s to build a strong and prosperous country.”