China’s top party cadres pledge loyalty to Xi Jinping in Mao-style self-criticism session ahead of reshuffle

Politburo members make loyalty oaths and engage in soul searching for “core leader” as the party gears up for power transition next year

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 29 December, 2016, 9:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 30 December, 2016, 11:18am

The ruling Communist Party’s two dozen top brass made a face-to-face pledge of political loyalty to President Xi Jinping, one month into the official preparations for a major power transition next year.

In a self-criticism session that recalled the era of former leader Mao Zedong, members of the 25-strong decision-making Politburo made soul-searching reports about their ideological orientation and behaviour.

Xinhua said the two-day session, which ended on Tuesday, also highlighted the importance of ensuring the longevity of the party, by “passing on the red regime generation by generation”.

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It was not the first time the highest-ranking officials read out Mao-style self confessions in Xi’s presence. He introduced these “democratic life sessions” at all levels of the party in 2013, to consolidate his power and to help fight corruption.

But analysts said the timing of the latest loyalty pledges was noteworthy.

They said the meeting was meant to cement Xi’s status as unquestioned leader in both the Politburo and its innermost Standing Committee before next year’s crucial party gathering.

“Everything is done to ensure the smooth transition next year. No major impact on it is allowed,” Beijing-based political analyst Zhang Lifan said.

Another Politburo meeting yesterday called for maintaining the momentum of Xi’s anti-corruption drive.

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The party announced the beginning of preparations for its 19th congress last month, meaning the party has officially started to discuss the line-up of the Politburo Standing Committee and Xi’s team for his second term.

Intense bickering and horse trading have been a hallmark of every power transition in the history of the party and pundits expect the next one to be no exception.

The emphasis on the prominent status of Xi is important, as he faces increasing pressure both domestically and externally and will need the support and loyalty of the party’s top echelon.

At home, the party was facing pressure over a slowing economy - which could threaten social and political stability, Zhang said. China also faced many uncertainties abroad, including incoming US president Donald Trump, who has been critical of Beijing.

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At the most recent self-criticism session, Xi urged “pure” and “unconditional” loyalty to the party and more resolve to defend national interests, according to a statement released by Xinhua.

“[We must] get tough on reform, development and stability … [We must] dare to be confrontational over core interests of the country,” Xi said.

His strong wording said a lot about the difficulties he faced at the top, said Chen Daoyin, a professor at Shanghai University of Political Science and Law.

The meetings also stressed clean governance and politics, which Zhang said was deliberate.

“I think the main purpose of emphasising anti-corruption is to use it as a way to intimidate senior cadres,” Zhang said.

The party’s last Politburo had four of its members enmeshed in corruption charges, including one regional chief, two senior PLA officers and the party security chief.