If there was any lingering doubt about President Xi Jinping’s (習近平) ascendancy over an upcoming leadership reshuffle and China’s way forward in the next five years and even beyond, it should have been dispelled by the intensifying campaign to cement his authority over the past two weeks.

The massive military parade on July 30, broadcast live on national television, saw Xi dressed in a green uniform as the commander-in-chief to receive the salute from 12,000 troops and review the People’s Liberation Army’s (PLA) latest weaponry.

Officially, the ceremony was to mark the PLA’s 90th anniversary, but in reality it was clearly meant to show the PLA’s allegiance to Xi himself at a time when jockeying for power ahead of China’s leadership shake-up, to be approved at the Communist Party’s 19th congress scheduled in autumn, is coming to an end.

It also followed the announcement on July 24 that Sun Zhengcai, a Politburo member, and once a contender for the top leadership, was under investigation after his sudden removal as party secretary of Chongqing ( 重慶 ) 10 days earlier. The removal of Sun, as discussed in this column last week, and the military parade, were part of an elaborate campaign, along with the hyped up propaganda, to show that Xi had emerged a clear winner in the intense power jockeying.

They also occurred ahead of the annual informal meeting of current and retired Chinese leaders at the summer resort of Beidaihe, where the agenda for the 19th congress including the new leadership line-up is being finalised. The Beidaihe meeting is thought to have been under way since Wednesday and is expected to last a week, although the mainland leadership never publicises when the annual meeting begins or ends.

Is Xi’s new ‘core’ status a sign of strength, or weakness?

All told, Xi is most likely to play a dominant role in filling the new leadership line-up with his supporters, rewriting the party’s leadership succession protocols, and enshrining his own “new thinking, new strategies, and new approaches” as guiding ideology in the party and state constitutions.

While the implications of the probe against Sun and the military parade have been well analysed in overseas media, there have been fewer reports of another event which carried equal significance, if not more.

On July 26, Xi opened a two-day meeting in Beijing of all leading officials from the central government to the local authorities, from the military to the judiciary, according to state media.

The theme of the meeting may be consistent with the ongoing propaganda drive, entitled “Learning from the essence of (President) Xi Jinping’s important speeches in preparation for the 19th National Congress”.

But the unusual set-up of the meeting and Xi’s speech suggest much deeper implications.

National TV footage of the meeting showed Xi and the other six Politburo Standing Committee members at the head table, while all the other leading officials sat much like students in a classroom. Significantly, none of them were shown taking any notes.

This is a sharp departure from the usual practice, in which officials studiously take notes in important meetings chaired by Xi so that they can relay the proceedings to other officials who were not invited.

At the meeting, Xi summarised the achievements of his first five years in power, notably with a bold declaration that his administration had helped the country make the historic leap to being a strong world power. He argued that whether the upcoming congress comes up with an action plan which is comprehensive, strategic, and prescient will concern the future of the party and the state ... and fundamental interests of the people. Xi’s strong appeal and the subsequent state media commentaries heaping fulsome praises on his speech have given the strongest indications that Xi’s thoughts would be enshrined as guiding ideologies at the congress.

As an important symbol of political standing and power as well as legacy, every top leader since 1949, from Mao Zedong (毛澤東) to Deng Xiaoping (鄧小平), Jiang Zemin (江澤民) and Hu Jintao ( 胡錦濤 ), have had their political theories written into the party and state constitutions as guiding ideologies.

But Xi would achieve the distinction – putting him in the same league as Mao – if his thoughts, like Mao’s once were, were accepted as the guiding ideologies while he was still in power. This would give him more influence and prestige.

Even as ‘the core’, Xi faces resistance from China’s local officials

Deng Xiaoping Theory was written into the constitution in 1997 following his death that year. Jiang’s Three Represents was accepted in 2002 when he retired as the party head and Hu’s Scientific Outlook on Development was written into the party constitution in 2007, but only accepted as the guiding ideology in 2012 when Hu retired.

Interestingly, until early this year, important speeches given by top leaders would usually mention the need to follow the guidance of Deng Xiaoping Theory, Three Represents, and the Scientific Outlook on Development as signs of continuing the legacy of previous leaders. But the boiler phrase has been conspicuously missing from the speeches by top leaders and official media reports in recent months as the campaign to elevate Xi’s thoughts has shifted into high gear.