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China's Communist Party

China’s leaders reaffirm loyalty to party under Xi Jinping at top level gathering

  • Politburo members conduct ‘criticism and self review’ over two days of meetings to show how they are implementing leader’s policies
  • The exercise is likely intended to prepare officials for challenges of the year ahead as trade war pressures continue to loom large, analysts say
PUBLISHED : Friday, 28 December, 2018, 5:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 28 December, 2018, 2:49pm

China’s top leaders held a series of meetings in Beijing this week to underscore the authority of Communist Party general secretary Xi Jinping and set the national agenda for the year ahead.

The Politburo – the party’s highest echelon – ended two days of meetings on Wednesday at which members discussed how to “strengthen the need to maintain political integrity, think in big-picture terms, follow the leadership core, and keep in alignment”, state news agency Xinhua reported.

“[The meeting] also called for thorough implementation of key decisions and policies designed by the Communist Party Central Committee,” it said.

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The gathering followed a high-profile celebration on December 18 chaired by Xi to mark the 40th anniversary of China’s reform and opening up to the outside world, while the leadership also last week convened the Central Economic Work Conference to set the economic agenda for 2019. On Thursday, Xi also presided over a meeting with officials in charge of political and legal affairs.

The Xinhua report said Politburo members conducted “criticism and self review” at the meetings on Tuesday and Wednesday, and shared how they have taken the lead in implementing Xi’s instructions and key party regulations, including an eight-point guide promulgated six years ago that bars officials from indulging in extravagant and wasteful practices.

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Analysts said the meetings were intended to prepare party cadres for a challenging year ahead, with the nation’s leaders aware that the trade war with the US, if handled improperly, could have an major impact on China’s economy and reform plans.

Lu Xiang, an expert on China-US relations at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said, however, that the Politburo meeting was about bigger issues than just the trade war.

“It’s more about the domestic and external challenges that China faces. Xi is warning the cadres that they must not let their guard down and his message is consistent with what he said at the 40th anniversary celebration when he warned there are ‘unimaginable perils’ ahead,” he said.

“Of course the trade war is one of the challenges, but the message isn’t about the trade war.”

The leadership, he said, was “of the view that there will be a solution to the trade war in the coming one to two months”.

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China’s commerce ministry on Thursday confirmed that a vice-ministerial-level meeting was planned for officials from China and the US to continue their discussions on a wide range of trade issues.

Zhang Lifan, a Beijing-based independent political analyst, said the fact Xi had stressed the party’s leadership at the Politburo meeting suggested he was facing political pressure from within.

His speech was an “attempt to shore up the Communist Party’s authority and his own leadership”, he said, adding that through the process of criticism and self review, Xi was ensuring the loyalty of the party elite.

Xi emphasised that cadres should maintain their “fighting spirit” to prepare them for worst-case scenarios such as a breakdown in trade talks with the US, Zhang said.

“The chances of such a situation happening are very low because I believe Chinese leaders are prepared to make concessions [in the trade talks],” he said. “After all, China wants to strike a deal with the US.”