C3S Paper No. 0023/2016
This paper deals with the likely scenario of a shift in political leadership system of the Communist Party of China (CCP) and China after Xi Jinping. This paper does not discuss whether China and its leadership system will collapse or emerge as a leading and powerful state in the coming years. Questions raised in this argument attempt to answer: Why is Xi Jinping consolidating power; The significance of the CCP’s Collective Leadership System; and Why and how collective leadership system of CCP will resume after Xi Jinping’s tenure.
Consolidation of Power by Xi Jinping
Following Xi Jinping’s ascension to the powerful echelons of CPC in November 2012, he now heads the top three organs of Chinese leadership: Party Secretary, State President and Chairman of Central Military Commission. Additionally, Xi Jinping has also taken direct command of influential committees, some newly formed, including committees on national security, censorship, the Internet, military restructuring, foreign policy and economic reform.
An August 2012 op-ed in China Daily before Xi Jinping was named the man for the task said, “At this critical moment of great changes and transitions, China is in dire need of a political leader who has the courage, sense of mission and wisdom to lead the country to its reawakening,” ‘Critical moment’ could be understood in different senses, but most importantly it points at the rampant corruption in Chinese leadership system and outside. Corruption at all levels of Chinese leadership and the society at large has reinforced Xi Jinping’s accumulation of total power to fasten his anti-corruption campaign.
Meanwhile, current domestic and international circumstances required Xi Jinping to centralize the system. His big anti-corruption campaign is attempting to strengthen the 87-million-strong Communist Party by bringing the cadres closer to the people. Xi Jinping’s strategic image build-up as paramount leader in the last three years and a strong man of Chinese leadership after Deng was primarily to curb the rampant corruption in China. As Xi Jinping had remarked at the party’s 2012 plenum, “The problems among our party members and cadres are corruption, taking bribes, being out of touch with the people – which must be addressed with great effort,” Only when corruption is minimized or eradicated if at all, the smooth political and other reforms in China can be made possible. According to Tania Branigan, China observer, The Guardian online news, till February 2015, authorities say 100,000 officials have been punished.
A subtle effect of the anti-corruption crackdown has been a slowdown in the economy of China. In fact, crackdowns tend to come at a cost, says Dan Hough, an expert on anti-corruption initiatives at the University of Sussex: “Often it does lead to negative economic and social consequences. Government officials and Party’s cadres freeze and are scared to do anything and nothing.”
There are opinions by scholars on China and Chinese people that Xi Jinping might break the two terms practice of leadership and continue his leadership beyond the year 2022. Yu Jie (U.S based dissident), said that Xi Jinping has been amassing power because he wants to revive the kind of authoritarian rule that Mao had practiced. Observing the style by which Xi has assumed a kind of dictatorial rule over party and State, his prediction is correct to a certain extent. But there aren’t many facts to support this argument. Therefore, it is most likely that CCP will resume Collective Leadership system after Xi Jinping’s ten- year tenure.
Collective Leadership and its Significance
The Collective Leadership system of CCP means: joint leadership of all seven members of the Political Bureau Standing Committee (PBSC) who represents the country’s top leading bodies looking over the Party, government and military affairs.
According to Shen Dingli of Fudan University, “There is currently much talk about whether China’s President Xi Jinping is shifting away from collective leadership.China’s Communist Party has always claimed to adopt ‘democratic centralism’. And, at different times, the party has emphasised either the ‘democratic’ or ‘centralist’ aspect.” The Collective Leadership System was introduced under Deng Xiaoping’s leadership after experimenting Mao’s failed policies and his dictatorial style. Deng had given utmost important to this system as he had remarked, ” System and institution in the party and the State were much more important than individual”. In 1990, Deng again emphasised its importance by stating that “The key issue in China is that the CPC has a good Political Bureau, a good PBSC, in particular. So long as nothing goes wrong in this link, China will remain as stable as Mount Tai”. Therefore, XiJinping’s leadership in line with Mao’s dictatorial style is a temporary strategy to get rid of major challenges before the CCP and China at larger, including the corruption issue. However, his leadership will be followed by the resumption of the Collective Leadership System in CCP.
After Xi Jinping in 2022
The more important question is who will succeed Xi Jinping in year 2022 when the sixth generation leadership will resume the Collective Leadership system of CCP? Many scholars and leading sources on future leadership of CCP have predicted that Hu Chuanhua, current member of Politburo and Party Secretary of Guandong Province will succeed Xi. This prediction is based on Hu Jintao’s deal with Xi Jinping before coming to power that Hu Chunhua will be picked up for China’s top leader after him. Hu Chuanhua had earlier worked in the Tibetan Autonomous Region (TAR) for 23 years (1983-2006) under Hu Jintao as Party Secretary of TAR. He also speaks Tibetan language fluently. Initially, he had volunteered to work in TAR as a member of Communist Youth League (CYL). He had implemented hardline policies against Tibetan protesters and nationalists during his tenure in TAR.
If Xi Jinping succeeds in his anti-corruption campaign without affecting the larger stability in domestic space in China and especially within the party, China will become stronger economically as well as continue to emerge as a rising power. After completion of Xi Jinping’s two tenures the Collective Leadership System of CCP may resume under the leadership of Hu Chuanhua in 2022.
(The views expressed are the authors’ own. Shartsong Tenzin Dhetan is Senior Research Fellow, Tibet Policy Institute [TPI] & Rinzin Dorjee is Visiting Research Fellow at TPI. Email id: firstname.lastname@example.org)