Xi’s new ‘core’ leader status highlights China’s power struggle


China’s president, Xi Jinping, has already grasped more power more quickly than his two recent predecessors, and he has shown a taste for audacious decisions and a loathing for dissent. But a new push to praise him as China’s “core” leader, a term resonant with the formidable stature once held by Deng Xiaoping, suggests that his steely quest for dominance is not over, The New York Times reports:

As Mr. Xi confronts economic challenges and prepares to pick a fresh cohort of subordinates, he has demanded that Communist Party officials close ranks around him more tightly than ever, and references to Mr. Xi as the “core” leader have become a daily occurrence in China’s state-run news media…. Mr. Xi also appears to be laying the groundwork for promoting loyalists, which will culminate in the party’s next congress in 2017, said Joseph Fewsmith, a professor at Boston University who specializes in Chinese elite politics. Mr. Xi was installed as top leader at the last congress in 2012 and is likely to remain party leader until 2022.

“Such sudden, unabashed references to Xi’s dominance in the leadership suggest he finally has turned the page on crushing the cabal of senior officials who opposed his ascension and remains a man in a hurry when it comes to fully consolidating his political power,” said Christopher K. Johnson, an expert on Chinese politics at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.

The push to give Xi a “core” designation could be a sign of internal party strife, Bloomberg analyst Ting Shi writes.

The move is potentially “a sign of internal opposition and party infighting because a mid-term power transition is around the corner and he felt the need to emphasize something he appears to already have,” said Zhang Lifan, a Beijing-based historian and political commentator. “In Chinese politics, what you seek can show what you lack.”

In his latest drawing (above), China Digital Times resident cartoonist Badiucao highlights the reemergence of the term “core” (héxīn) amid a call for “absolute” Party  loyalty to the high leader. In the cartoon, Xi is portrayed as an egg being pursued by a multitude of sperm, representing Party underlings. In his Twitter explanation, Badiucao warns that the imminent union could “spawn a power freak”. The term “core,” coined by Deng Xiaoping when he called Mao the “core” of the first generation and himself that of the second, was often used in reference to Jiang Zemin, the Party leader of the third generation. It was not commonly applied to Jiang’s successor Hu Jintao, but in recent weeks several provincial and municipal leaders have called Xi the “core” of the leadership

In recent weeks, the communist authorities announced a series of especially harsh charges and sentences against more than a dozen lawyers and activists, notes Sarah Cook, a senior research analyst for East Asia at Freedom House and director of its China Media Bulletin. Several of these rights lawyers and activists had been detained in July 2015 as part of President Xi Jinping’s crackdown not only against calls for political change but also against legal and Internet activism pursuing fair law enforcement, she writes for The Wall Street Journal:

Last month’s official decisions highlight two changes in the Party’s authoritarian tactics. The regime is reviving its use of charges such as “subversion” after having shifted to less overtly political charges in the first years of Mr. Xi’s leadership. Authorities are also extensively using Article 73 of the Criminal Procedure Law to hold activists in isolated “residential surveillance” for six months.

China Digital Times [a grantee of the National Endowment for Democracy] also highlights a Deng-era reformist’s warning of overreaching censorship:

At South China Morning Post, Nectar Gan reports a newly published warning from former People’s Daily deputy editor Zhou Ruijin that excessive censorship is “a mismatch to the whole picture of reform”.” Zhou supported Deng Xiaoping’s reforms in the early 1990s under the group pen name Huang Fuping. CDT publishes leaked instructions illustrating this process in its Directives from the Ministry of Truth series.

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