Why Xi Jinping Is Continuing to Centralize Power

March 20, 2021 Updated: March 20, 2021


During China’s top political annual meetings, the weeklong “Two Sessions” that concluded on March 11, Chinese leader Xi Jinping made new moves to centralize power, sparking widespread concern at home and abroad.

Why does Xi continue to centralize power and how does he do it? What will be the result? Let’s explore this issue.

Xi’s Centralization of Power

Since Xi became head of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) in November 2012, he has taken at least nine major steps to control the party and military.

First, Xi simultaneously holds the three highest positions—General Secretary of the CCP Central Committee, Chairman of the state, and Chairman of the Central Military Commission (CMC).

Second, Xi is the head of a dozen committees and commissions. Some of these titles include chairman of the National Security Council, director of the Central Financial and Economic Affairs Commission, director of the Central Cyberspace Affairs Commission, director of the Central Foreign Affairs Commission.

Third, Xi has established his “core” position through anti-corruption campaigns. The nomenclature implies that Xi has furthered consolidated power and is considered a paramount leader.

The title “core” was also given to former CCP leaders Jiang Zemin and Deng Xiaoping. Jiang continues to have influence over major issues in the CCP’s domestic and foreign affairs.

Since January 2013, Xi has launched anti-corruption campaigns against the “tigers” or high-level officials who he regarded as a threat to his rule. Most of the top officials who were purged were loyal to Jiang Zemin, including Zhou Yongkang, a former member of the Standing Committee of the CCP’s Political Bureau and Secretary of the Central Political and Legal Affairs Commission. By October 2016, Xi finally became the “core” of the CCP’s leadership.

Fourth, the Constitution was amended to allow Xi to remain in power for life. On March 11, 2018, China’s rubber-stamp legislature, the National People’s Congress (NPC), approved the removal of the two-term limit on the leadership.

Fifth, on Oct. 27, 2017, the Politburo (China’s top decision-making body) decided that senior officials are required to report their work in writing to the Party Central Committee and General Secretary Xi every year.

Sixth, when Xi came to power, he placed emphasis on the leadership of the CCP and revised the Constitution accordingly. In October 2017, the phrase, “The Party exercises overall leadership over all areas of endeavor in every part of the country” was included in the Constitution. In March 2018, another phrase, “The leadership of the CCP is the most essential characteristic of socialism with Chinese characteristics,” was added to the Constitution.

In October 2019, Xi’s book “On Sticking to the Party’s Leadership Over All Work” was published, which contains 70 contributions by Xi from November 2012 to July 2019.

Seventh, Xi revised the Organic Law (Law governing all levels of China’s courts) of the National People’s Congress (NPC).

On March 11, the fourth meeting of the CCP’s 13th National People’s Congress adopted a draft amendment to the Organic Law. The revised Organic Law authorizes the Standing Committee of the NPC to appoint and remove the Vice Premier and State Councilors of the State Council, Vice-Chairman of the Central Military Commission (CMC), and members of the CMC when the NPC is not in session. This is the first change in 39 years since the law was rewritten and passed in 1982.

This amendment allows Xi, through his crony Li Zhanshu (a member of the Politburo), to replace the officials who hold these posts, further centralizing the power of the State Council and the CMC in his own hands.

Eight, the CCP’s “two upholds” were established as the most important political disciplines. The phrase means to firmly uphold General Secretary Xi Jinping’s core position in both the Party Central Committee and the Party as a whole, and firmly uphold the Party Central Committee’s authority and its centralized, unified leadership.

The “two upholds” have been written into the “Chinese Communist Party Disciplinary Regulations,” which was revised in 2018. Since then, many senior CCP officials have been investigated and punished for seriously violating the “two upholds.”

Qiushi, the official theoretical journal of the CCP, published an article on July 15, 2020, and stated, “To adhere to and strengthen the Party’s overall leadership, the first thing is to achieve ‘the two upholds,’” which is “the most important political discipline and political rule.”

The article also said, “The ‘two upholds’ has a clear connotation [sic] and requirements, which are to maintain the core position of General Secretary Xi Jinping, who is the core and not anyone else.”

Ninth, no successor has been designated.

In the past, the CCP had the practice of designating a successor. However, in the eight years since Xi took power, he has not designated a successor. Although there have been various speculations about Xi’s successor, none of the potential candidates have been proved true. On March 5, CNN quoted Steven Tsang, director of SOAS China Institute as saying, “We know exactly who the successor to Xi Jinping is, it’s even clearer than ever … Xi Jinping.”

Through the nine major steps mentioned above, Xi’s centralization of power has become second only to that of former CCP dictator Mao Zedong.

Reasons for Xi’s Continuous Centralization of Power

There are four main reasons why Xi has been consolidating his power.

First, there is a deep state in the CCP.

Before Xi came to power, Hu Jintao was the CCP’s General Secretary for ten years. During his tenure, the CCP had a deep state headed by Jiang Zemin and his key henchman, former Chinese vice president Zeng Qinghong, with Jiang and Zeng’s factions having a big influence over all levels of government and institutions. Hu Jintao was just a puppet for Jiang, and he didn’t have his own political network. Even his Zhongnanhai butler Ling Jihua, the then Director of the General Office of the Central Committee, was loyal to Jiang and Zeng. Hu’s orders could not even go outside of Zhongnanhai where the headquarters of the CCP is located.

Xi also did not have his own connections or protégés before he came to power. At that time, if Xi did not keep a low profile and did not obey Jiang and Zeng, he would not have been able to become the head of the CCP. After Xi came to power, he launched an anti-corruption campaign against “tigers” in order to seize power from Jiang and Zeng. Many members of Jiang’s faction were arrested. However, before the 19th National Congress of the CCP, Xi thought he had succeeded in taking power, so he compromised with Jiang and Zeng and did not arrest them. With Jiang and Zeng still at large, the deep state of Jiang’s faction has been trying to drive Xi out of power.

Second, Xi is seeking a third term at the 20th National Congress of the CCP.

By 2022, Xi will have served two consecutive terms as General Secretary of the CCP’s Central Committee.

The 20th CCP National Congress will be held next year, and the CCP’s Central Committee, its Political Bureau, the Standing Committee of the Political Bureau, the General Secretary of the CCP’s Central Committee, and the Chairman of the CCP’s Central Military Commission will all be re-elected.

The 20th National Congress will decide the personnel layout of the 14th National People’s Congress (NPC), the central government, the Supreme People’s Court, and the Supreme People’s Procuratorate in 2023. By then, the President, the NPC, the State Council, the Supreme Court, and the Supreme Procuratorate will all be re-elected.

The Chinese Communist Party has been in power for 71 years and has taken the worship of power to the extreme, where power means fame, wealth, and beautiful women. Under the CCP’s system, if you lose power or fail in the power struggle, you may become a prisoner, or even be executed.

For the CCP officials, power and personal gain, and even life and death, are closely linked. Who will rise in power and who will step down at the 20th National Congress of the CCP? A new round of infighting among high-level CCP officials is bound to take place.

One of the most important reasons for Xi to consolidate power is to come out as a winner in this political struggle and to win a third term at the 20th National Congress.

Third, Xi lacks a sense of security and he fears settling old scores.

Under Xi, seven of the senior military and political officials in the Beijing Garrison have been replaced, four of whom were commanders and three political commissars. This shows that Xi did not trust anyone!

On March 5, 2016, Xinjiang Wujie News published an open letter from an anonymous source, which demanded Xi’s resignation and threatened his family.

Fourth, the end of the CCP is drawing near.

In the late 1980s and early 1990s, after the collapse of communist regimes in the Soviet Union and Eastern European countries, the CCP has faced a huge existential crisis.

On July 20, 1999, Jiang Zemin launched a major persecution campaign against adherents of the spiritual practice Falun Gong. Since then, the CCP began to move toward total and complete corruption.

When Xi came to power in November 2012, he inherited the CCP’s problems that had accumulated over the past decades. By 2020, the CCP virus, commonly known as the novel coronavirus and which causes the COVID-19 disease, had spread from Wuhan to the rest of the world due to the CCP’s concealment of the epidemic—the CCP was plunged into an unprecedented and comprehensive crisis. The CCP has been reduced to the most corrupt political party in the world, and there is no way to save it.

The CCP is already terminally ill beyond cure, and its imminent demise is all apparent. Xi can think of no single silver bullet solution to save the CCP from its inevitable destruction. So, he has to keep turning toward socialism and communism, learn from Mao Zedong, return to the “Cultural Revolution,” and keep consolidating power again and again.

Xi Jinping’s constant centralization of power may pave the way for his third term in the 20th National Congress of the CCP. However, if he is in charge of everything, he is bound to fail in his duties. The absolute power to control everything is bound to lead to absolute corruption. Mao’s centralization and Stalin’s centralization brought unprecedented disasters; it is extremely dangerous for Xi to continue to follow the path of Mao and Stalin.

Wang Youqun graduated with a Ph.D. in law from the Renmin University of China. He once worked as a copywriter for Wei Jianxing (1931–2015), a member of the CCP Politburo Standing Committee from 1997 to 2002.

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

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