Can the centre hold in Xi Jinping’s China?

Some see in his elevation as ‘core’ leader as the beginning of a personality cult.

October 28, 2016 10:14 pm | Updated November 17, 2021 06:23 am IST - BEIJING:

A man looks at a building covered in posters of Chinese President Xi Jinping in Shanghai.

A man looks at a building covered in posters of Chinese President Xi Jinping in Shanghai.

Chinese Communist Party chief Xi Jinping’s ascension to the highest title in the party hierarchy formalises his position as its pre-eminent figure, analysts said, making him the country’s most powerful leader in a generation and inviting comparisons with Mao Zedong.

The ruling party’s declaration that Mr. Xi is the “core” of its leadership saw some observers argue it heralded the beginnings of a personality cult, smacking of the adulation that once surrounded Communist China’s founding father, who ruled for three decades.

Others saw it as a crucial step to enforce genuine reform in the world’s most populous country and second-largest economy, including liberalising markets and strengthening the legal system.

Mr. Xi’s anointment, by the ruling party’s top echelons after a key meeting in Beijing known as the Sixth Plenum, was met with fanfare by state media. A picture of the leader in a sombre Western suit dominated the front pages of the country’s major papers on Friday, and China’s national broadcaster showed footage of Mr. Xi’s lectures during the meeting on a near-continuous loop.

Many loyalists see Mr. Xi as a transformative figure, and Hu Xingdou, an expert on China’s governance at the Beijing Institute of Technology, said his new status could see him become “China’s [George] Washington” and lead the country “out of the shadow of chaos”.

The government had failed to deliver on its previous commitments in such areas as improving rule of law and opening markets, he said.

The move comes ahead of a party congress next year when Mr. Xi will have an opportunity to put his own allies into the top Politburo Standing Committee.

‘Not monolithic’ Jean-Pierre Cabestan of Hong Kong Baptist University said calls for unity before and at the plenum showed that the party was “far from being monolithic and that Mr. Xi is facing difficulties and even headwinds as far as his policy agenda is concerned”.

”The battle for the next party congress has started but it is far from being over,” he said. Not all are convinced Mr. Xi will use his new-found authority for good. He is a “power hungry politician”, said Willy Lam, professor of politics at the Chinese University of Hong Kong.

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