Chinese Leader Xi Tightens His Grip as He Seeks to Secure a Third Term

November 10, 2021 Updated: November 10, 2021

News Analysis

Mao Zedong led China to “stand up” against foreign threats, Deng Xiaoping made China rich, and Xi Jinping will lead China to become the preeminent world power, or so says the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).

And to make China strong, obviously, Xi needs a third term, to help the nation capitalize on opportunities that he has identified. This is the narrative Xi is pushing to the Central Committee and to the people. And if he succeeds in securing their support, he hopes to elevate himself to the level of Mao and Deng.

The sixth plenum, the four-day, closed-door meeting of the 300-member Central Committee of the CCP, is taking place in Beijing this week. China operates on five-year political cycles, defined by a five-year plan. Normally, a Chinese leader has a 10-year term. The incoming leader inherits a five-year plan, already in progress. For Xi, this was the 12th five-year plan. Xi saw the 12th five-year plan through to the end, and then wrote and executed the 13th five-year plan, which just finished. During the fifth plenum, Xi produced the next five-year plan, the 14th, covering the years 2021 to 2025.

Normally, the sitting leader would hand off the 14th five-year plan to the incoming leader. But in Xi’s case, there will be no incoming leader. It is expected that at the conclusion of the sixth plenum, he will be leader for life.

One of the agenda items to be discussed at the sixth plenum will be a “historic resolution.” This is a landmark moment, as the CCP has only had two previous historic resolutions. The first was by Mao, in 1945, which rewrote history, saying that he had been unchallenged within the Party. The other was by Deng, which criticized the Cultural Revolution, making it the only CCP policy that can be criticized. It was also Deng’s resolution that spawned the verdict of Mao’s legacy: “Mao was 30 percent wrong and 70 percent right.”

The rewriting of CCP history is very important for Xi’s future plans for the country. By revising history, Xi can control the future. One point of history that may be up for revision would be the question of which bodies of water and which independent countries China can lay claim to. This does not bode well for Taiwan or disputed areas of the South China Sea. One of Xi’s slogans is “national rejuvenation,” which includes “reunification” with Taiwan.

Xi has already ensconced himself into the CCP and into history by having his Xi Jinping Thought added to the Constitution. This ensures that he will be revered, on the level of Mao and Deng. And now, like them, he will dictate the writing of his history.

Epoch Times Photo
Soldiers are seen near a poster of Chinese leader Xi Jinping next to the entrance to the Forbidden City in Beijing on May 18, 2020. (Nicolas Asfouri/AFP via Getty Images)

Currently, Xi holds the titles of General Secretary of the CCP, Chairman of the Central Military Commission (CMC), and President of the People’s Republic of China (PRC). In 2012, he was elevated to the position of paramount leader of China. Then, at the 2016 plenum, he was given the title of “core leader,” which elevated him above all Chinese leaders, except Mao and Deng. In 2018, the CCP removed term limits for the president. And at the current plenum, he is expected to solidify all of his political power and be granted leadership for life.

Xi’s power is proving to be a double-edged sword in the economy, with his subordinates carrying out his policies, mostly out of fear. Coupled with Xi’s often conflicting demands, this is a recipe for disaster. An example would be Xi demanding an end to the power shortages, while ordering strict reduction of fossil-fuel emissions. The National Development and Reform Commission actually sent both orders to the mining operations, in spite of the fact that it was the strict reduction in fossil-fuel emissions that caused the shortages in the first place.

Having to meet two conflicting goals, the mining companies were put in a tough spot and they risked punishment, no matter what they did. They finally opted for more production, to alleviate the very visible problem of energy shortages. No one in this chain of command could have pointed out that a reduction in emissions caused the power shortages, because that would have been criticism of Xi.

Not wanting to be the province or the city that makes trouble, local governments would rather cover up problems. This is what happened in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, in Wuhan city, when authorities silenced doctors and whistleblowers who warned of the disease.

Often doing nothing, until expressly told to do something, is the safest policy for the lower-level governments. This type of approach, however, does not foster creativity or innovative problem solving. Xi has prioritized poverty reduction. And there may be local government officials who see a practical and easy solution for their specific region, but if they were to take measures that failed, they would risk punishment. Alternatively, if they do nothing, they can claim that they are following Xi’s orders and trying to think of a good solution.

Xi wants to take the Chinese economy in a new direction, no longer relying on exports, turning inward, and promoting domestic demand as a driver of economic growth. China knows how to run an export economy, which it has been doing for the past three decades. A consumer-driven economy, heavily dependent on the service sector, by contrast, is new. This would be a better time for creativity and flexibility within the various levels of government, and reduction of strict controls across society. Instead, Xi is moving toward stricter controls of the economy and the populace, while making his control over the government absolute and possibly permanent.

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.

Antonio Graceffo, Ph.D., has spent over 20 years in Asia. He is a graduate of Shanghai University of Sport and holds a China-MBA from Shanghai Jiaotong University. Antonio works as an economics professor and China economic analyst, writing for various international media. Some of his books on China include "Beyond the Belt and Road: China’s Global Economic Expansion" and "A Short Course on the Chinese Economy."