Key Beijing Conclave Emphasizes Xi’s Leadership, Hints at Tough Stance on Hong Kong

By Nicole Hao
Nicole Hao
Nicole Hao
Nicole Hao is a Washington-based reporter focused on China-related topics. Before joining the Epoch Media Group in July 2009, she worked as a global product manager for a railway business in Paris, France.
October 31, 2019 Updated: October 31, 2019

The Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) fourth plenary session concluded on Oct. 31, with state media reports emphasizing that Chinese leader Xi Jinping is the core of the Party’s leadership, indicating that his faction remains dominant.

The plenum communique also mentions the need “to safeguard national security” in Hong Kong and Macau, leading many observers in Hong Kong to believe that Beijing has plans to reintroduce a controversial “national security” legislation.

Xi’s Position

As previously mentioned during Xi’s speech at the opening of the plenum, the Party’s top officials discussed “promoting modernization of the state governance system,” according to the communique published by Chinese state-run media Xinhua. The Party has previously used similar wording to describe its high-tech surveillance apparatus, such as its artificial-intelligence-enhanced security cameras and social credit system.

Among the Party’s main tasks was to advance the nation’s “security,” according to the communique, going on to emphasize the Party’s all-encompassing role in Chinese society.

U.S.-based China commentator Tang Jingyuan analyzed that this was a euphemism for the Party’s desire to maintain the stability of its rule.

The communique repeated Xi’s political ideology, “Xi Jinping’s new era of socialism with Chinese characteristics,” suggesting that his leadership remains stable.

It also expounded on the idea of “social governance,” in which “everybody has the responsibility, everybody makes the best effort” to maintain the Party’s leadership. This sentence is in line with past reports about local authorities requiring citizens and companies to report behavior that does not toe the Party line.

Successor Question

Hong Kong and Taiwan media, citing insiders, previously reported that the Party would make personnel changes to promote Vice Premier Hu Chunhua and Chongqing City Party boss Chen Min’er, to the Politburo Standing Committee, the Party’s highest decision-making body. Ahead of the Party’s key congress in 2017, when the leader typically picks a successor, Chen was widely speculated to be the candidate. But Xi did not appoint a successor, and later initiated a change to the country’s constitution to abolish term limits for the state leader position.

The plenum ended with no major personnel changes, only the promotion of two alternate members of the Central Committee to become regular members. The Central Committee consists of roughly 370 regular and alternate officials.

U.S.-based commentator Shi Shi told the Chinese-language Epoch Times that this is expected, given that “Xi amended the constitution in 2018 and planned to keep his position as Chinese leader until 2022, when his second term is finished.”

No Mention of Predecessors

Prior to the plenum, the Central Committee and China’s State Council, a cabinet-like agency, co-released an update to a Party document called “an outline for implementing citizen moral construction” on Oct. 27.

The previous version was released in 2001, in which it reviewed the main political ideologies of all former Chinese leaders, including Mao Zedong, Deng Xiaoping, and Jiang Zemin.

In this update, which includes an amended title referencing Xi’s “new era,” the document made no mention of the former Chinese leaders, only referencing Marxism.

Commentator Tang told The Epoch Times on Oct. 31 that the outline and the plenum communique conveyed the same point: “Xi Jinping has begun his one-person domination [of the Party]…and will lead the country to become more leftist.”

Legislation for Hong Kong?

The communique also mentions “establishing and perfecting a legal system and law enforcement mechanism” in Hong Kong and Macau “for safeguarding national security.”

Hong Kong media analyzed that this could be a hint that Beijing plans to reinstate Article 23, a proposed amendment to the city’s mini-constitution, called the Basic Law.

First proposed in 2002, the legislation was an anti-subversion measure that many Hongkongers believed would restrict their civil liberties.

It triggered large-scale protests, forcing the Hong Kong government to scrap the bill in 2003.

Since then, Hong Kong pro-Beijing politicians and CCP senior officials have suggested reintroducing Article 23, but the government has not yet taken action.

The communique’s mention of Hong Kong’s “national security” could also refer to the current extradition bill crisis, which sparked the largest protest movement in the city’s history.

The bill would have allowed any country, including mainland China, to seek extradition of criminal suspects. Many feared that the bill would allow the Chinese regime, with a history of human rights violations and an opaque legal system, to punish its critics with impunity.

Though the bill has been scrapped, protesters continue to take to the streets, calling for an independent investigation of police use of force during demonstrations and universal suffrage in the city’s elections.

Recently, Hong Kong-based media outlet Information Center for Human Rights & Democracy quoted insiders in an Oct. 30 report that Chinese military performed an exercise on Oct. 11 to simulate a surprise aerial attack, in the event of a crisis in Hong Kong. Fighter jets and other military aircraft flew from Chongzuo City in the southern Guangxi region to Xupu County in Hunan Province, a distance of about 800 kilometers (497 miles).

The report said one A-8 heavy transport helicopter crashed into a mountain in Xupu. Pilots Wen Weibin, Gong Dachuan, Luo Wei, and eight soldiers on the plane died.

Chinese state media have confirmed the deaths of Wen, Gong, and Luo, as well as the cause of death and location, but did not disclose details about the mission they were performing.

Nicole Hao
Nicole Hao
Nicole Hao is a Washington-based reporter focused on China-related topics. Before joining the Epoch Media Group in July 2009, she worked as a global product manager for a railway business in Paris, France.