Xi Jinping has scripted history and the crafting of historiography in the Communist Party of China’s 19th congress signifies the start of a “new era” ~ the President’s pivotal expression at the Great Hall of the People. Tuesday’s unanimous vote of the 2,300 delegates to incorporate Xi’s Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era in the party Constitution ~ not to be confused with that of the nation ~ places the leader on the same doctrinal pedestal decorated by Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaopeng.
On the face of it, the “Thought…” might appear to be quite a mouthful, but the fineprint is unmistakable. Chiefly, the congress vote has reaffirmed his unrivalled authority, and logically enough, any challenge to his power will ipso facto be a challenge to the man at the helm. That pregnant signal has been addressed not merely to the domestic audience, but to the world. The reconstituted Politburo Standing Committee remains a predominantly senior citizens’ entity , though the new members are slightly younger in age.
Markedly, Xi has skirted the succession issue though a third term in 2022 will be unprecedented. Profoundly critical is the geopolitical compulsion not least in the context of the waning influence of Donald Trump’s America.
Yet another phase has been added to China’s history since 1949 when Mao seized power in a revolution that established a unified People’s Republic, spearheaded the Cultural Revolution, and ended a century of civil war and foreign invasions. The second phase was set in motion in 1978 after Mao’s passing; Deng was riveted to economic development ~ as he said, he didn’t care if a cat was black or white, as long as it caught mice. Xi’s stunning presentation can thus be contextualised in the context of China’s history over close to 70 years ~ “If Mao made China independent and Deng made it prosperous, I am now going to make China strong again.”
Xi has blended Ideology with the needs of the military and domestic compulsions. There is little doubt that the cardinal objective of his ‘Thought’ is to further build up the omnipotent military ~ after the shake-up ahead of the congress ~ strengthen domestic controls, and raise China’s profile in world affairs. Indeed, “restoring China to greatness” is a tremendously ambitious consummation that is devoutly wished.
It is hard not to wonder if he is less than happy with the course of contemporary China’s history. For seldom in the past have the CPC’s proceedings been focused on an individual. Xi is acutely aware that the people, relieved from desperate poverty, are looking beyond immediate material needs. The ideological reorientation is, therefore, politically expedient.
Xi is anxious to attain a greater global stature for the country. This is at the core of his “China dream” that he had enunciated at the inaugural. Xi Jinping has spelt out a statement of intent. The world must listen and observe, especially over the next five years.