Xi’s power in China grows after unexpected surge

BEIJING (AP) — When Xi Jinping came to power in 2012, it was unclear what kind of leader he would be.

His low-key persona during a steady rise through the ranks of the long-ruling Communist Party in no way hinted that he would become one of modern China’s most dominant leaders, or put the country economically and militarily ascending on a collision course. with the international order led by the United States.

Xi is almost certain to secure a third five-year term as party leader at the end of a major party congress that opens on Sunday – a break from an unofficial two-term limit that other leaders recent ones had followed. What is unclear is how long he will stay in power and what that means for China and the world.

“I see Xi succeeding in the 20th congress, mostly. It’s about how much more powerful he will come out of it,” said Steve Tsang, director of the China Institute at the London University School of Oriental and African Studies. « He doesn’t come out looking weaker. »

He has already amassed and centralized power over the past 10 years in a way that far surpasses his immediate predecessors, Hu Jintao and Jiang Zemin, and rivals even the two other dominant Communist Party leaders – Mao Zedong, who led the country until his death in 1976, and Deng Xiaoping, who launched China in 1978 as it climbed out of poverty to become the world’s second-largest economy.

One of Xi’s flagship policies has been an anti-corruption campaign that has been popular with the public and conveniently enabled him to ward off potential rivals. A former justice minister and a former deputy public security minister received suspended death sentences last month.

The ongoing anti-corruption campaign, Tsang said, shows that « anyone who stands in his way will be crushed. »

Xi, 69, had the right pedigree to climb to the top. He enjoyed a privileged youth in Beijing as the son of Xi Zhongxun, a former vice premier and guerrilla commander in the civil war that brought Mao’s Communists to power in 1949.

His family, however, clashed with the whims of Mao’s regime during the lawless Cultural Revolution of 1966-76, which banished intellectuals to the countryside and subjected many to public humiliation and brutal beatings. in the name of the class struggle.

His father was imprisoned and Xi, aged 15, was sent to live in a poor rural village in Shaanxi province in 1969 as part of Mao’s campaign for educated urban youth to learn from peasants. He lived like the villagers in a hut dug into the cliffs of the region.

The experience is said to have hardened Xi and given him an understanding of the struggles of the rural population. He stayed in the village for six years, until he received a coveted scholarship to Beijing’s prestigious Tsinghua University.

“Knives are sharpened on stone. People are refined by difficulties,” Xi told a Chinese magazine in 2001. nothing seemed difficult then.

After college, Xi began his rise through the bureaucratic ranks with a three-year stint at the Ministry of Defense. He was later appointed party leader of a county south of Beijing before spending 17 years in Fujian province, starting as vice mayor of Xiamen city in 1985 and moving through a series of posts to governor of the province in 2000.

A first marriage fell apart after three years, and in 1987 he married his current wife, Peng Liyuan, a well-known singer and officer of the People’s Liberation Army Song and Dance Troupe. They have a daughter, Xi Mingze, who studied at Harvard University and has no public role in Chinese politics.

Alfred Wu, who covered Xi for Chinese state media in Fujian, remembers him as quiet and low-key, saying he was not as assertive as he became as a national leader.

« Today, Xi Jinping is totally different from Xi Jinping as governor, » said Wu, now an associate professor of public policy at the National University of Singapore.

Xi was moved to neighboring Zhejiang province in 2002, where he served as party leader for more than four years, the highest position ahead of governor. He was then briefly named party secretary in neighboring Shanghai in 2007, after his predecessor fell in a corruption scandal.

During his time in Fujian, Zhejiang and Shanghai, Xi was seen primarily as a pragmatist who did not launch bold proposals but generally supported the economic reforms that Deng had initiated and benefited particular coastal areas such as than these three jurisdictions.

He also spoke out against corruption as governor of Fujian after a major smuggling scandal, a hint perhaps of the nationwide crackdown that followed his rise to the top.

Xi was thrust into national leadership in 2007. It was then that he joined the Communist Party’s all-powerful Politburo Standing Committee, a prelude to his nomination to head the next congress in 2012.

Xi took control of economic and military issues and enshrined his name in the party constitution alongside Mao adding a reference to his ideology – Xi Jinping Thought.

The ideology is vague but emphasizes reviving the party’s mission as the political, economic, social and cultural leader of China and its central role in achieving the goal of « national rejuvenation », the restoration of the country to a leading position in the world.

His government has increased the role of state industry while launching crackdowns on monopolies and data security against high-profile private companies, including e-commerce giant Alibaba Group and owner Tencent Holding. of the popular messaging service WeChat.

Xi also revived a 1950s propaganda slogan of « common prosperity » in a nod to a widening gap between rich and poor, though it was unclear whether the government is planning any major moves to address it.

As the economy weakens from pandemic-era restrictions and a government crackdown on spiraling housing debt, there are growing concerns that Xi is moving away from the strategy of Deng’s « reform and opening up » that generated four decades of growth.

Wu sees Xi as a follower of Mao who rebelled against Deng, who allowed the private sector to flourish and sought positive relations with the West. « He’s really anti-American and anti-Western, » Wu said.

Xi’s more confrontational approach stems from a belief that now is the time for a stronger China to play a bigger role in international affairs and resist outside pressure.

Xi has antagonized Japan, India and other Asian neighbors by asserting claims to disputed islands in the South and East China Seas and territory high in the Himalayas. He has also stepped up military and diplomatic pressure on Taiwan, the island democracy which the Communist Party says belongs to China.

Relations with the United States have fallen to their lowest level since diplomatic relations were established in 1979, with the Biden administration maintaining tariffs imposed by former President Donald Trump and blocking Chinese access to important American technologies.

Whether anyone in the party leadership thinks Xi is leading the country in the wrong direction is hard to decipher, given China’s opaque political system and control of the media.

« We don’t know if people at the highest level think Xi Jinping is mediocre or not, » said Joseph Torigian, a China policy expert at the American University of Washington.

In China, the Communist Party under Xi has stepped up surveillance, tightened already tight controls on speech and media and further cracked down on dissent, censoring even mildly critical views and jailing those it says have gone too far.

Authorities have detained an estimated one million or more members of predominantly Muslim ethnic groups in China’s Xinjiang region in a harsh campaign against extremism that the United States has called genocide. In Hong Kong, Xi’s government responded to massive protests with a tough national security law that eliminated political opposition and altered the city’s once-free nature.

Xi faces a challenge for his government’s harsh « zero-COVID » policies, which have taken economic and human toll. Small groups of residents staged protests during a two-month lockdown in Shanghai earlier this year.

In a rare political demonstration, someone hung banners on an elevated highway in Beijing this week calling for freedom, not lockdown, and worker and student strikes to force Xi out. They were quickly removed, the police were deployed and any mention of the incident was quickly wiped from the internet.

The government stuck to the policy, which was previously seen as a success as COVID-19 ravaged other parts of the world. Although there is latent dissatisfaction, especially as life returns to normal in other parts of the world, most people dare not speak out.


Associated Press reporters Dake Kang and Joe McDonald contributed to this story.

Ken Moritsugu, Associated Press


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