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Tough Road Ahead For Xi Jinping

By JAYADEVA RANADE
August 26, 2022 09:00 IST
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China's deteriorating economy is a serious concern.
Xi Jinping and China's new Premier will have a difficult task ahead after the 20th party congress, notes Jayadeva Ranade, the retired senior RA&W officer and China expert.

IMAGE: Xi Jinping, general secretary of the Communist party of China, in Hong Kong, July 1, 2022, on the 25th anniversary of the city's handover from Britain to China. Photograph: Selim Chtayti/Pool via Reuters

After a fortnight's absence from public events, Chinese President Xi Jinping and Chinese Premier Li Keqiang appeared in the Liaoning and Guangdong provinces respectively.

Their absence since July 31 and appearance subsequently on August 16 confirmed that the secretive conclave of senior veteran cadres at the Beidaihe seaside resort had concluded after a fortnight.

The extended duration of the Beidaihe conclave, which normally lasts 8-10 days, has sparked some speculation in China.

So also has the fact that instead of the other politburo standing committee members appearing earlier as on previous occasions, Xi and Li were seen first.

 

What transpired at the Beidiahe conclave is not yet known and rumours will probably begin to circulate in a couple of weeks, but the economy would certainly have been discussed at length.

It will be a priority for China's leadership.

Reports circulating in China claim also that the upcoming 20th party congress may even designate Xi as Chairman! This would place him on par with Mao Zedong.

More importantly, it would make him pre-eminent in the politburo standing committee and imply that decisions will no longer be by consensus.

Another term for Xi also means discarding of the informal convention laid down by Deng Xiaoping of no more than two 5-year terms for any leader in order to prevent undue concentration of power in a single leader.

Chinese Premier Li Keqiang has already announced he would be stepping down on completion of his second term in March 2023.

Xi has been preparing for another term as China's leader.

Reports that he may possibly physically attend the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation summit in Uzbekistan and Indonesian President Joko Widodo's disclosure that Xi plans to attend the G-20 Summit in Bali in November, suggest that Xi is confident he will continue at China's helm after the 20th party congress.

Interesting is the emphasis on the economy by both leaders immediately after appearing in public and during their inspections of Liaoning and Guangdong and the Shenzhen Special Economic Zone on August 16 and 17.

While Li Keqiang pointedly visited Lianhuashan park to pay homage to the bronze statue of Deng Xiaoping, he was careful to genuflect to Xi.

'It is hoped that under the strong leadership of the Central Committee with Comrade Xi Jinping as the core, we will forge ahead, reform and innovate, and push development to a new level!' Li noted.

China's deteriorating economy is a serious concern.

Rising graduate unemployment -- already 19.9 per cent by June this year -- officially acknowledged 10 percent rise in the costs of production, closure of businesses, imposition of strict regulatory controls on China's tech and fintech industries that has reduced their profitability, massive rural and urban unemployment, closure of businesses, anticipated food shortages etc, all threaten the legitimacy of the Chinese Communist party.

In addition, the deteriorating international environment, the worldwide effort to restructure global supply chains, and mounting anti-China sentiment globally will also shrink China's export markets abroad especially in the US and Europe.

Amid rumours that Chinese Vice Premier Hu Chunhua will be promoted to the politburo standing committee and appointed the next premier, he attended two economy-related conferences on August 17 and August 19.

A young, low key cadre on the fast-track, Hu has served as party secretary of Guangdong and the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region and two tenures in the Tibet Autonomous Region.

He is a vice premier and also been entrusted with implementation of Xi's flagship poverty alleviation programme.

However, Hu has risen through the ranks of the Communist Youth League and has been considered close to Hu Jintao, Xi Jinping's predecessor.

IMAGE: Xi Jinping, left, with Premier Li Keqiang at the second plenary session of the National People's Congress at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing. Photograph: Carlos Garcia Rawlins/Reuters

At least three other candidates in the central organisations are potential contenders for the premier's job.

Liu He, who is one of Xi's closest friends and has studied economics in the US, is Xi's foremost adviser on economic matters. But he is 71 years old.

He Lifeng heads the powerful National Development and Reform Commission under the state council and is a politburo member. He is 67 years old and eligible for elevation to the politburo standing committee.

Both accompany Xi on his tours within China and appear in the official photographs.

Finally, Han Zheng, who is already in the politburo standing committee and is a senior vice premier and at 68 years, is also eligible.

Han Zheng was, however, close to former Chinese president Jiang Zemin and, while he has switched allegiance to Xi, is still not regarded as entirely in Xi's camp.

If Han Zheng is retained in the politburo standing committee or appointed premier, it would mean Xi Jinping has not been able to pack the politburo standing committee with loyalists.

Others in the provinces aspiring for elevation to the politburo standing committee and are eligible for the job of premier include Li Jiang (63 years), party secretary of Shanghai; Chen Min'er (62 years), party secretary of Chongqing and long considered a rising star; Li Xi (66 years), party secretary of Guangdong; and Li Hongzhong (66 years) party secretary of Tianjin.

Li Jiang and Chen Min'er are closely associated with Xi.

Li Hongzhong has been vocal in his support for Xi and was the first cadre to refer to him as 'lingxui'.

Whoever takes over as premier will have to contend with major economic difficulties in the years ahead.

Xi Jinping and China's new premier will have a difficult task ahead of them after the 20th party congress.

Jayadeva Ranade, former additional secretary, Cabinet Secretariat, Government of India, is the President, Centre for China Analysis and Strategy.

You can read Mr Ranade's earlier columns here.

Feature Presentation: Aslam Hunani/Rediff.com

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