Why Xi Jinping needs a stronger Communist Party to achieve his Chinese dream

Deng Yuwen says strict internal governance and discipline are clearly the top priority for President Xi Jinping, the latest among generations of Chinese leaders who believe China’s prosperity is inexorably linked to the Communist Party

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 14 November, 2017, 5:23pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 14 November, 2017, 7:35pm

China’s 19th party congress saw a new leadership team formed, with new political ideology added to the Communist Party’s constitution. It was also announced that ­socialism with Chinese characteristics had entered a “new era”. As President Xi Jinping’s report to the congress put it, the party must not only have a new look but also new achievements in this new era.

So, what will be the top priorities for Xi and the party in the next five years?

Top of the list will be to improve governance of the party, revive its vigour and make it the mainstay of a country practising socialism with Chinese characteristics. The second priority is to propel economic reform and ­development to achieve the goals set by the party for its first centennial, and lay the foundation for the ­bicentenary. Third is to improve China’s diplomatic role, elevate its global governance and create a favourable external environment for the country’s rise. The fourth priority is for Xi to identify and nurture a loyal successor.

Rather than discuss all four ­priorities, I will focus here on party governance – the top priority for Xi in the next five years.

The party has always said it is the only one that can handle issues in China well. If the party thrives, the country prospers; if the party gets weaker, the country declines. That has been the deep-rooted conviction of generations of party leaders, and especially Xi.

President Xi Jinping: the first five years

During the presidency of his predecessor Hu Jintao, the nation and economy gained strength. However, with the party crippled by corruption, it could only act passively amid social challenges and was unable to lead the nation forward. If this situation had gone on, the party would have ended up repeating the mistakes of the defunct Soviet Union, and it and the nation would have perished. That is why Xi took major steps to overhaul the party and fight corruption in the five years after the 18th congress, with the primary goal being to prolong the rule of the Communist Party.

Seven things you need to know about Xi Jinping’s vision of a ‘new era’ for China

While Xi’s “Chinese dream” – the great rejuvenation of the nation – has led to comparisons to Mao Zedong, there needs to be a strong political party to lead the country for the dream to come true.

It is under these circumstances that a set of Xi’s ideology has been developed, to be instilled into members of the party and thus strengthen the whole. The next five years will be critical for Xi, to truly unify the party and the country using his ideology. If he fails, the people, especially party members, will not recognise his ideology or his Chinese dream, nor strive hard under the party’s leadership. The dream might be delayed, or even die.

Party governance is Xi’s top priority for the next five years; his report has already revealed as much. To work with iron, you must be tough yourself, the report said.

It also said that, to unite and lead the people in a great struggle, undertake a noble cause or realise a great dream, the party must uphold and improve its leadership and keep getting stronger.

China’s anti-graft efforts since the 18th National Party Congress

Xi’s report said the party should recognise the complicated environment in which it rules, as well as the complex factors that affect its superiority or weaken its purity. There are serious defects in the party ideology, organisation and style of work that have yet to be rectified.

Therefore, Xi called for an awareness of the long-term challenges, including those relating to governance, reform and the market economy, as well as external factors.

He also called for a profound understanding of the severity of the dangers facing the party, such as inefficiency, isolation from the masses, corruption and other negative elements.

The party was urged to rise to the challenges, remain strategically ­focused, and enforce internal discipline. Thus, strict governance of the party will not stop. The last chapter of the report elaborated how this could be achieved.

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Indeed, strict governance of the party is one of 14 key principles laid out to build socialism with Chinese characteristics in the new era. The first principle is that the party must lead everything in China, while the last relates that the party should be governed strictly. For the first principle to work, the last one must be practised. This new party-building project will play a pivotal role in the new era, the report said.

In addition, during the first session of a lecture group that conveyed the spirit of the 19th congress, Wang Huning, a top theorist on the new Politburo Standing Committee, highlighted seven points of clarification. The first six were relatively abstract discussions of ideology-related principles, but the seventh was a pragmatic discussion of ­important strategic plans to enforce strict party discipline.

Group activities by Standing Committee members following a party congress have significant symbolic meaning, and often indicate the priorities and policies likely to emerge over the following five years.

After the 18th party congress, for instance, Xi led Standing Committee members to visit “The Road to Rejuvenation” exhibition at the ­National Museum, which highlighted the goals of his Chinese dream.

A week after the 19th congress, Xi visited the birthplace of the Communist Party in Shanghai, along with the new Standing Committee. The political symbolism of the ­memorial site: it is the starting point for the party.

President Xi Jinping visits the birthplace of the Communist Party

With the visit, Xi may well have been urging party members to remember the original intent behind its establishment. He might also want members to start from that point and turn the party into a popular, well-organised ruling power with strong leadership skills.

This would explain why his report to the 19th congress included the first proposal to prioritise the party’s political development project. Put simply, the project is designed to get all members on the same page, politically, to share the same views as the party and its “core” leader Xi, in terms of political stance, direction, principle and path.

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Xi’s report to the congress also ­emphasised the prevention of, and opposition to, a variety of issues, from individualism, decentralisation and liberalism, to selfish ­departmentalism, unprincipled behaviour and factionalism. And it opposed any acts of duplicity or double-dealing. That suggests such phenomena are common in the party.

There are still ambitious schemers and conspirators in the party

According to a report by the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection and articles by its head, Wang Qishan, over the past five years, there are still ambitious schemers and conspirators in the party. After the 18th congress, the party did a good job of fighting corruption and strengthening ­internal discipline, but harmful effects linger.

As the political development project has yet to produce results to ease Xi’s concerns, measures to strengthen party discipline, such as the anti-corruption campaign, will continue.

Xi is clearly determined to build a team of party members, especially senior cadres, thinking and acting together, and so strict party governance will continue to be his top priority for the next five years.

Xi might also see political loyalty and his political ideology as key elements in his political development project.

So, while Xi is likely to maintain his anti-corruption campaign or intensify it in some ways, its overall scale is likely to diminish.

Deng Yuwen is a researcher at the Charhar Institute think tank. The views expressed in this article are his own. This article is translated from Chinese