China's third plenum

Xi Jinping shows muscle by setting up panels on economic reform, security

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 14 November, 2013, 4:33am
UPDATED : Thursday, 14 November, 2013, 2:41pm

The creation of two new panels to oversee economic reform and national security provides perhaps the strongest sign yet that President Xi Jinping has successfully consolidated power across the government after a year in office.

The establishment of a central "leading team" on reform and a security co-ordinating committee required more political strength than Xi's predecessor Hu Jintao brought to bear a decade ago, analysts said.

Even Jiang Zemin, who reportedly remains a powerful force behind the scenes, failed to set up a similar security committee in the late 1990s.

The security committee will provide Xi with a new platform to wield influence over the diplomatic, intelligence, military and law enforcement agencies at a time of mounting security concerns at home and abroad. Many observers expect the president to chair the team.

The role will give Xi more control over domestic security, re-elevating a position that appeared to have been downgraded with ex-security tsar Zhou Yongkang's retirement after the party reshuffle last year.

"The power of the security chief in managing the nation's police force and judiciary is now passed to Xi," said Gu Su, a political science professor at Nanjing University.

The forming of the committee also showed Xi's ability to navigate vested interests in the security sector, which had stymied such a body for decades. Calls for a security committee last peaked in 1997, with Jiang's visit to the US National Security Council.

Gu said rising unrest and the fallout from the corruption case against former Politburo member Bo Xilai had raised concerns about factional divisions within the party and prompted Xi to establish a stronger power base.

Setting up the security committee showed Xi had convinced other party elites of the need for such a team, he said.

Zhang Lifan, a Beijing-based political commentator, said the committee was intended to rebalance power between vested interest groups, allowing Xi to work in a more "top-down authoritarian style".

Aside from Xi, the security committee would include security chief Meng Jianzhu , long-time policy adviser Wang Huning and State Council deputy secretary general Wang Yongqing, Chen Li, the deputy publicity director for the Communist Party's Central Politics and Law Commission, wrote on weibo yesterday. The message was later removed.

Li Wei, an anti-terrorism expert with the China Institute of Contemporary International Relations, said such a committee was needed because of mounting security risks, including territorial disputes, cyberattacks and ethnic unrest.

Xi was also expected to play a big role in the central leading team on "comprehensively deepen reforms", even though it was expected to be headed by Premier Li Keqiang. It will focus on overhauling the government and its relations with the market.