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China’s President Xi Jinping could be formally named 'People’s Leader' in historic move

The term has only ever been used for the country’s founding father and briefly, his successor.

China’s President Xi Jinping could be formally named 'People’s Leader' in historic move
Chinese President Xi Jinping (rightmost) is expected to become arguably the country’s most powerful leader since its founding father Mao Zedong (leftmost). (Photo: AFP/Jade Gao)

BEIJING: China's President Xi Jinping is expected to become arguably the country’s most powerful leader since its founding father Mao Zedong - as he looks set for not just a third term at the helm, but to also be accorded the formal title of “People’s Leader”.

The title has been used widely in state media and by officials to refer to Mr Xi in the run-up to the 20th Communist Party Congress, noted analysts who anticipate the development.

With amendments to the party constitution on the agenda during the congress, analysts believe the title could be formalised by including it in revisions to the charter.

It would be a clear sign of the Chinese leader's consolidation of power in the last decade, and a rare move in the post-1978 reform era.

HISTORIC PEACETIME MOVE

The term "leader" has only ever been formally used for the late Mao, and his successor Hua Guofeng who held power briefly.

Mao, who ruled till his death in 1976, received such a status in the Communist Party due to his achievements and leadership during the revolutionary wars, said Dr Chen Gang, assistant director of policy research at the East Asian Institute of the National University of Singapore (NUS).

For Mr Xi to secure such a title during peacetime is therefore significant, he said.

Analysts expect revisions to the party's constitution to bring Mr Xi's political ideology on par with founding father Mao's. (Photo: AFP/Jade Gao)

"This indicates that some of his achievements, at least from the party's perspective, like common prosperity, environmental protection, and the anti-corruption campaign shows that actually the party confirms his contribution to the party and that's one of the reasons he can secure a third term and the title of ‘People's Leader’,” said Dr Chen.

THE INFLUENCE OF XI

The title signals Mr Xi’s position not just within the party, but in the entire history of the People’s Republic of China, said Associate Professor Alfred Wu from the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy at NUS.

“He actually could utilise this title to run the country for many decades,” said Assoc Prof Wu, adding that it is more all-encompassing than the titles of general secretary of the Communist Party or President of China, which are tied to institutions.

Congress spokesperson Sun Yeli said that amendments to the party's constitution would “incorporate the major theoretical views and strategic thinking” in the last five years, and that the move has received widespread support from the Party.

The title signals Mr Xi’s position not just within the party, but in the entire history of the People’s Republic of China. (Photo: AFP/Noel Celis)

Analysts also expect the revisions to elevate Mr Xi's political ideology to be on par with Mao's.

"These would be significant because it would be a show of political force," said Neil Thomas, senior China analyst at Eurasia group.

Statements made by officials at news conferences on the sidelines of the Congress have hinted at what is to come.

Mr Tian Peiyan, deputy director of the Communist Party’s policy research office, said: “Every era needs its own outstanding figures as they hold a key appreciation of the trend of the times and the shared aspirations of the people.

“Such figures can organise people and turn the people’s shared aspirations into reality. General Secretary Xi Jinping is the outstanding figure of our era and the people’s leader.”

The statements of officials at news conferences on the sidelines of the Congress have given a hint of what is to come. (Photo: Screenshot)

Mr Tian also hailed Mr Xi’s leadership in helping the party solve outstanding issues and rejuvenate China, even as the country faced challenges at home and abroad in the last decade.

FIGHTING CORRUPTION

One key effort has been Mr Xi’s battle against corruption, which the Chinese leader described in his speech at the opening of the Party Congress as being  "on an unprecedented scale".

Mr Xi had declared "an overwhelming victory" in his signature campaign, saying it had helped remove "serious hidden dangers in the party, the country and the military", a point reiterated by officials.

The campaign has gone on for a decade “without a moment of lapse”, said Mr Xiao Pei, deputy head of the party’s Central Commission for Discipline Inspection and vice-chairman of the National Supervisory Commission.

“Our party is committed to opposing and rooting out all corruption, and delivered on the promise of General Secretary Xi Jinping made after the 18th Party Congress, that whoever violated the discipline and law, no matter how high up they are, will be held accountable and be severely punished. This is by no means an empty promise,” he said.

In his speech at the opening of the Party Congress, President Xi Jinping had described the country's battle against corruption as being "on an unprecedented scale". (Photo: AFP/Noel Celis)

Since Mr Xi took office in 2012, the disciplinary inspection authorities have investigated over 4.6 million cases, according to officials.

In weeks leading to the party congress, a number of high profile cases have made the headlines. 
 
One such case involved a former vice-minister of public security who gave and accepted bribes and manipulated the stock market, with state media saying he had “seriously undermined the unity of the party”.

His political clique, including a former justice minister and police chiefs, was also implicated.

In this image taken from video footage run by China's CCTV, Sun Lijun, former vice-minister of public security, attends a court sentencing on Sept. 23 this year. (CCTV via AP)

About 74,000 people have been investigated for corruption-related crimes in China, though officials stress that about half of them committed their first offence before Mr Xi came to power. The number has since fallen to 11 per cent in the last five years.

INTERNAL STRIFE

Critics have, however, questioned the motives of Mr Xi’s anti-graft campaign, saying it has given him a reason to remove political rivals.

Mr Xi's mention in his Congress report of forces within the Communist Party still resisting his changes, and accusing them in some cases of being corrupt, was a change in tone, said Professor Rana Mitter, an expert in History and Politics of Modern China at the University of Oxford.

“That must say something, that after 10 years of his rule already, that there are still these forces that exist within the party,” he noted.

“But I think it also shows, interestingly, the sort of confidence that he was willing to put it openly in the speech and broadcast it on national and indeed international television as well.”

Calling corruption a "cancer to the vitality and ability of the Party", Mr Xi has signaled that the anti-corruption campaign is here to stay.

"As long as the breeding grounds and conditions for corruption still exist, we must keep sounding the bugle and never rest, not even for a minute," he said.

The Chinese leader added that "self-reform" was one of the answers to the question of how to escape the "historical cycle of rise and fall", and that doing so would ensure “the Party will never change its nature, its conviction, or its character”.

Source: CNA/fk(ca)

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