Xi Jinping’s Leadership Challenges for the CCP’s stability

In his opinion Glenn Tiffert, a historian at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University brought forth Xi Jinping’s feared that the CCP might eventually disintegrate like Soviet Communists and “this seems to be a problem that he paid special attention to from the beginning.” Xi Jinping, therefore, wanted to avoid the path of destruction of the Communist Party of Soviet Union and this manifested in his tightening of his grip over the Party.

In November 2019, the BBC Chinese website published an article stated that “China under Xi Jinping may embark on the old path of Brezhnev, former General Secretary of the CPSU.” It is believed that after Brezhnev came to power, Khrushchev’s reforms and liberalisation commitments ended, and the state’s centralised control was strengthened. This is similar to what Xi Jinping did which emerged during the meeting (October 2020) of the Central Committee of Communist Party of China (CPC).

In 1989, Deng Xiaoping remarked on the perils of one-man rule. He warned “building a nation’s fate on the reputation of one or two people is very unhealthy and dangerous”. In fact, Deng was so paranoid and impacted by Mao’s rule over China that he introduced term limits for state officials. With the abolition (March 2018) of the term limits for the President, Deng’s famous remarks on dangers of one-man rule find no place in the 2021 edition of the “Short History of Communist Party”.

Despite the earlier reported controversies, about Xi family having assets more than US$30 (Bloomberg, January 2012) and his brother in law Deng Jaigui, having two shell companies in the British Virgin Island Xi Jinping continued with his ‘anti-corruption’ campaign against his critics. Presently, there are no obvious opponents with no known succession plan with a potential to brew into a leadership crisis in the coming times.

Those who dared to criticise him have been severely ‘dealt with’ and the threat of anti-corruption investigation continues to keep Jiang Zemin and his cronies in place, preventing them to make a comeback. Ren Zhiqiang, an influential tycoon and veteran CCP member, gained international attention when he criticised (February 2016) Xi Jinping on tightening party control over the media. He was dealt with ti signal that other party members should keep criticism of Xi Jinping to themselves.

The CPC, under Xi, is facing internal challenges at the grassroots level, prompting repressive action against its own members. The Associated Press reported (September 2020) that 23 people were detained in Inner Mongolia for a widespread protest that erupted (August 2020) over attempts to replace Mongolian language textbooks with their Chinese version. Among the detainees were several CCP members, including teachers, who were suspended without pay or turned over for investigation for they refused to carry out the new policy.

Despite the obvious consequences, prominent academicians from top universities came out to criticise Xi. Academicians calling Xi Jinping’s leadership a failure, urging his removal from power, and explicitly envisioning a transition to a more democratic and federally structured political system indicates that Xi Jinping is facing a crisis within the party, even if no one is powerful to implement it presently.

Law Professor (Tsinghua University) Xu Zhangrun, whose essay criticising Xi Jinping’s leadership went viral online, was detained (July 2020) for six days, only to be fired upon his release. Echoing the same concerns, about China’s mounting internal crisis, and international isolation Leng Jiefu, a retired dean of the Politics Department, Renmin University, wrote a letter which also went viral online. Another open letter circulating on the internet called for an emergency ‘Politburo Expanded Meet’ to decide whether Xi should step down from the leadership of the party, government and military citing his handling of COVID-19 pandemic, the trade war with the US, dying economy and other issues such as Taiwan.

To weaken the power of Li Keqiang and his State Council and strengthened Xi Jinping’s authority the “Deepening Party and State Institutional Reform Program” was promulgated (March 2018). Furthermore, the Central Committee of the CCP also began reforming the party and state institutions, structuring their organization and functions of the State Council, and the responsibilities of the party institutions of the CPC, to enhance the power of Xi Jinping.

A book on Xi Jinping, discussed that the strict governance of the Party shows that some people in the CCP have different views on establishing a “Xi Jinping as Core” and hope to “develop democracy within the Party”. According to the media reports “someone in the CCP has challenged Xi Jinping as the core” and called for intra-party democracy.

Subsequently, the government required the whole party to achieve ‘two safeguards’, that is, to maintain the core position of Xi Jinping’s Party Central Committee, the core position of the party, and maintain the authority of the Party Central Committee and centralized and unified leadership. In January 2021, Xi Jinping made a statement at the CCDI “the outstanding problem now is that some lack the spirit of responsibility, slack in work, fear of hardship and perfunctory responsibilities”.

To project his power through military means, Xi since taking over office in 2012, he has conducted 5 important military parades, the most since 1959, namely: a) September 3, 2015, commemorating the 70th Anniversary of the Victory of Chinese people against the Japanese and also the Victory of World War II; b) August 1, 2017, on the 90th Anniversary of the PLA; c) April 13, 2018, South-China Military Parade; April 23, 2019 at the 70th Anniversary of the PLA Navy; and e) October 1, 2019 at the 70th Anniversary of the PRC.

Meanwhile Between 2013 and 2016, Xi Jinping purged a large number of senior army Generals in the name of anti-corruption. In 2016, Xi Jinping promoted the PLA reforms and also changed its areas of responsibility and command structure. Vaisily Kashin, an expert on Chinese military at Moscow Higher School of Economics, opined that Xi Jinping has turned the PLA into his political power base.

Those who have worked with Xi Jinping for a long time were promoted to the Central Organization. They included, current Secretary of the Beijing Municipal Party Committee Cai Qi, Director of the Central Propaganda Department, Huang Kunming, Chairman of the NPC Li Zhanshu, Minister of Ministry Public Security Wang Xiaohong and Secretary of CCDI Zhao Leji.

In addition to being top leader of Party, Government and Army, Xi has become chairman of everything in China. He is also Director General of the CMC Joint Staff Department; Chairman of National Security Committee; Leader of Central Leading Group for Deepening Comprehensive Reforms; Leader of CMC’s Leading Group for Deepening National Defence and Army Reforms; Leader of the Central Cyber Security and Information Team; Leader of Central Leading Group for Taiwan Issue; Leader of the Central Financial Economic Leading Group; Director of the Central Military Civil Integration Development Committee.

Presently, the sole agenda of the CCP and Xi is to protect their self by controlling information and repression besides, propagating its ‘governance’. However, Xi Jinping’s repression through ‘iconic, anti-corruption campaign against ‘tigers and flies’ has created his foes and dissatisfied groups all over in his ambitions of amassing power.

Xi Jinping used the anti-corruption drive serving twin purposes firstly, containing the bureaucratic corruption and secondly, to purge his rivals within the CCP to be the unchallenged leader in China. Dissatisfied leaders in the CCP, however, are concealing their feelings against Xi for their survival in the party. The possibility of the rival group becoming larger would signal turmoil in any critical situation for of Xi Jinping’s leadership.

Besides the intra-party differences, the issue of growing disparities between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have nots’ is another major issue that is a cause of concerns for the Xi Jinping’s leadership. In order to narrow this gap, Xi Jinping has called for the implementation of ‘Common Prosperity’ by means of “3rd Distribution Means” of the National Income i.e. social donations by the wealthy Chinese people and enterprises. Big Chinese business giants such as Alibaba Group and Tencent made announcements to implement ‘Common Prosperity’ projects in the given areas or city or province. Jack Ma, Alibaba Group founder, disappeared for three months after October 2020, and by doing so, the CCP send a very strong message to the wealthy people and the private enterprises that they must share some part of their disposable income for the party’s ‘Common Prosperity’ policy.

However, this seems to be a smart move by the CCP to hide its failures even using the “3rd Distribution Means” of social donation, the Party seems neither been able to check the disparities gap between the rich and the poor nor will ensure ‘Common Prosperity’ in China. This policy will help the CCP to fool its masses for a few more years but in future there is going to be cascading issues for the Party in relation to the ever growing economic disparity in China.

The challenges of intra-party dissatisfaction and economic disparity among the Chinese people are a threat for Xi Jinping’s leadership and the stability of CCP. If the coercive methods of Xi Jinping continue to grow against his CCP members then certainly he may reach a point where the majority of the party members will anticipate his stepping down. His ambition to become more important than the CCP will lead to his downfall sooner or later. In order to prevent or delay this Xi would continue to adopt a belligerent approach externally to espousing the cause of ‘Chinese Nationalism’.