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Characteristics of the Second Xi Jinping Administration and the Future of China

Satoshi Amako
Professor, Faculty of International Research and Education, Waseda University

The 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China was held from October 18 to 24. Xi Jinping gave an extensive political report lasting three and a half hours. The grand subject matter of the report and the unanimous support of Xi by the central and regional government leadership have evoked the arrival of the age of Xi Jinping. General Secretary Xi Jinping's power base was not very strong when he assumed power five years ago at the 18th National Congress. At the time, the party and military leadership was dominated by the Jiang Zemin faction, while the state leadership was dominated by the Hu Jingtao-leaning Communist Youth League faction. What has Xi focused his efforts on in order to strengthen his power base over the last five years? I would like to first comment on this. Three key points come to mind.

The Anti-Corruption Campaign and Attacks on the Opposition

The first key point is his clean sweep of corruption, under the pretext of which he has attacked his rivals and opposition. The chief executive of the anti-corruption campaign was Wang Qishan, with whom Xi has a strong relationship of mutual trust. After the 18th Congress, the anti-corruption campaign was mobilized. Jiang Zemin faction, including Zhou Yongkang who held the positions of Minister of Public Security and Deputy Minister of Petroleum Industry, and two vice-chairmen of the military Xu Caihou and Guo Boxiong, were driven from power. From regional governments, Communist Youth League faction leader Ling Jihua was ousted, and Vice President Li Yuanchao, a top contender for Xi's succession, as well as Premier of the State Council Li Keqiang were removed from the policy-making process. In July 2017, the young Chongqing party secretary Sun Zhengcai, who was a top contender for leadership in China post-Xi, was driven from power. By analyzing the results of this anti-corruption campaign, we can see that Xi Jinping's rivals and major contenders for leadership following Xi Jinping have been eliminated from the political sphere altogether.

Xi Jinping's Concentration of Power and a Shift Towards Authoritarianism

The second key point is a systematic movement towards Xi's concentration of power. Since the Jiang Zemin era, the party's general secretary has also acted as head of state and the chairman of the Military Affairs Committee. In addition to these three positions, it has been customary for the general secretary to hold the top positions for a number of leadership groups in charge of deliberating and deciding on individual policies such as those related to diplomacy. However, Xi now holds the top position for over ten leadership groups and has furthermore established new policy-making groups in charge of three important matters—national security, policy reform and media/cyber security, and has placed himself in the top positions for all three.

The third key point is Xi Jinping's progression towards authoritarianism. Xi's concentration of power and the enactment of a variety of bold strategies have prompted a movement toward an authoritarian leadership in which Xi Jinping can execute policy as a supreme ruler. He proposed the "Chinese Dream," successfully implemented the "Two Centenaries" (the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Communist Party in 2021, and the 100th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China in 2049). Xi also called for the establishment of a "new, constructive 21st century relationship between world powers," which was proposed to United States leaders, proposed and promoted the idea of a Silk Road through land and sea, also known as the "One Belt One Road Initiative," and, to put the initiative into effect, established the first Chinese initiative international bank, the Asia Infrastructure Investment Bank. By calling for these changes, and by putting them into practice, Xi strengthened his image as a great leader.

After establishing his image as a "great leader," calls to make Xi Jinping the "core leader" started being heard since the beginning of last year, and before long, it was officially recognized that Comrade Xi Jinping is the core leader of the party. He is the fourth to hold this title, following Mao Zedong, Deng Xiaoping, and Jiang Zemin. Furthermore, at the 19th Congress, Xi Jinping's concept of "socialism with the distinct features of a new age of China" was added to the party statutes. There is no question that Xi has succeeded in centralizing political power around himself and moving toward an authoritarian direction.

The Strategy Towards a Long-Term Administration and the Creation of a Leadership Structure

What can we deduce from the contents of Xi Jinping's political report and personnel affairs at the Congress? The points I want to emphasize the most are the way in which he established long-term objectives, and his strong intention to pursue a long-lasting administration. While he has already touched on the long-term objectives laid out in "Two Centenaries," this time, he declared that he will put the plans into effect, and established interim goals for 2035. With the economy already in the phase of moving toward quality over quantity, Xi called for the development of a capital market that emphasizes the strategic reorganization of state-owned enterprises, environmental reform, and the role of the high-tech and financial industries, so that by 2035, China can become a leading nation in economic and technological reform, realize a "beautiful China," and strengthen the international influence of Chinese culture. For the second phase, beginning in 2035, he declared that China would build a world-class military, and become a modernized, powerful socialist nation with top level comprehensive national power. In 2035, Xi will be 82 years old, an age in which he can still lead as long as he is healthy. He seems to display a drive to become a great leader comparable to Mao Zedong.

What can we gather from the leadership personnel? Wang Qishan, who was the focus of much attention, has stepped down from the Politburo Standing Committee. However, at the same time, the young leaders who were considered contenders for Xi Jinping's succession were also removed from the top seven. Xi was able to select and appoint leaders to facilitate the management of the administration and to ensure that his own ideas are reflected in the creation of every policy.

China's Tasks and Objectives

In his political report, Xi proposed a number of rosy objectives. These include: (1) high-quality education for all children, (2) the elimination of poverty in agricultural communities by 2020, (3) the establishment of a healthcare system that covers all life care, and (4) the acceleration of ecological civilization reform. He concluded his report by declaring his intention to "continue to fight to achieve a society where all are content, to realize the Chinese Dream of a great revival of the Chinese people, and to ensure the people live beautiful, magnificent lives."

These are all very splendid, attractive ideas. Realistically, however, it is impossible to pursue all of these goals at once. These objectives can be reduced to the following: (1) establishing a sound domestic economic system, (2) strengthening international influence through diplomatic and economic exchange and (3) building a world-class military and establishing the country as a military power that can oppose the United States. But where do Xi Jinping's priorities lie? Progress in objectives (1) and (2) are sought both inside and outside of the country. However, if Xi is fixated on the great revival of the Chinese people and wiping out historical humiliation, objective (3) may turn out to be his greatest priority. It is important to carefully observe whether Xi Jinping will steer China in the direction of objectives (1) and (2).

Satoshi Amako
Professor, Faculty of International Research and Education, Waseda University

[Present Position]
Professor at the Graduate School of Asia-Pacific Studies, Faculty of International Research and Education, Waseda University. Director of Waseda Institute of Contemporary Chinese Studies, Waseda University (Representative of NIHU Contemporary China Area Studies). Program Leader for the MEXT Global COE Program (Global Institute for Asian Regional Integration). He was born in Okayama Prefecture in 1947. His fields of specialization are contemporary China and Asian international relations. He is also an associate professor at Tokyo University.

[Profile]
Professor Amako graduated from the School of Education, Waseda University. He earned his Ph.D. in International Relations from the Graduate School of Social Sciences, Hitotsubashi University. He became Professor at Waseda University in April 2002 after serving as Assistant Professor at University of the Ryukyus; as Professor in the Faculty of International Culture, Kyoritsu Women's University; and in the School of International Politics, Economics and Communication, Aoyama Gakuin University. He served as Dean of the Graduate School of Asia-Pacific Studies, Waseda University from 2006 to 2008. He was a visiting professor to American University in 1999, the University of British Columbia in 2009, and the Australian National University in 2010. From 1986 to 1988 he worked as a specialist researcher at the Embassy of Japan in China, and from 1999 to 2001 he served as President of the Japan Association for Asian Studies.

[Major publications]
Asian Regional Integration Series [Ajiachiiki Togokoza], 12 volumes (Chief editor, Keiso Shobo, 2012, Results of the MEXT Global COE Program (Global Institute for Asian Regional Integration)); On the Lookout for a Transition in the History of Japan-China Relations [Nicchu Rekishino "Kawarime" o Tembo suru] (Editor, Keiso Shobo, 2013); Conflict between Japan and China—Interpreting the China of Xi Jinping [Nicchu Tairitsu—Shu Kimpei no Chugoku o Yomu] (Chikumashobo, 2013, translated into Korean); History of the People's Republic of China [Chuka Jinmin Kyowakoku-shi] (Iwanami Shoten, 2013); Asian Reconciliation [Asia no Wakai] (Iwanami Shoten, 2016)