‘Core Leader’, Core Challenges

China in Context by Epoch Times Issue 27
March 27, 2017 Updated: March 27, 2017

During the recent meetings of the Chinese regime’s parliament and its top advisory body, Xi Jinping’s status as supreme leader was hammered home by Premier Li Keqiang. In his address to the parliament, Li emphasized the need to “follow the Party leadership with comrade Xi Jinping as its core” half a dozen times.

Xi, who assumed the mantle of Party “core” leader last October, might feel the need to burnish his credentials at the recent political conclave as he strives to tackle two pressing issues facing the Chinese regime today.

The first is a Chinese economy that is slowing after a decade of double-digit growth. Capital is also rapidly flowing out of China, partly due to Chinese officials squirreling away their ill-gotten cash abroad before the anti-corruption police come knocking.

The Communist Party has long tied its prestige to a booming Chinese economy and its ability to keep the middle class content. For Xi, fixing the cooling Chinese economy is thus a matter of political survival: The middle class, in the event of shrinking income and a retrenchment in living standards, might not continue to turn a blind eye to the Party’s suppression of dissidents, minorities, and people of faith.

The second issue concerns political authority. Since taking office, Xi has been slowly wrestling power away from the  political faction headed by former Party “core” leader Jiang Zemin that ruled China for more than two decades. While Xi has purged many top Jiang supporters via an anti-corruption campaign, Jiang still has allies holding key portfolios in the upper echelons of the regime who have sought to undermine Xi through subtle and not-so-subtle means. Jiang, the Party godfather, and his consigliere, Zeng Qinghong, are still at large.

Xi’s authority is also subject to challenge by Party cadres unconnected with Jiang. Party elites who presumed that Xi’s anti-corruption campaign was targeted only at Jiang were shocked by Xi’s investigation of Xiao Jianhua, a Chinese businessman whom top officials used to launder their dirty cash. Some rank and file cadres, disaffected by the strictness of the anti-corruption investigations, are offering passive resistance to Xi by slacking off work or applying for early retirement, The Epoch Times has learned.

If Xi ever actually pushes for greater reforms and liberalization in China, his step towards greater authoritarianism may be cast in an understanding historical light.

Failing to reform, or dragging China back into the darker communist past, on the other hand, will merely hasten the demise of the Party and the world’s last communist power.

—Larry Ong