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President Xi to prolong one-man rule

Posted December. 28, 2016 07:06,   

Updated December. 28, 2016 07:16

The Chinese Communist Party is seeking a measure to depower the Politburo Standing Committee, the framework of China’s collective leadership system, and thereby concentrating power on one leader ahead of reshuffle of the supreme leadership for the 19th Party Congress in November next year. President Xi, who will mark the 10th anniversary of his inauguration in 2022, is thus moving to pave the way for a prolonged one-man rule by breaking the practice in which the Chinese leader is replaced every 10 years.

According to Chinese media and Hong Kong magazine Cheongming among others on Monday, the Chinese Communist Party is taking steps to introduce the presidential system to replace the current general secretary system. A group preparing for next year’s Party Congress sent a "draft plan reflecting partial opinions on duty of the party and reform and development of state agencies of the party and the government," which includes the introduction of the presidential system.

According to the plan, a presidential post will be instated at the party’s Central Committee, and the chairman of the Chinese National People's Congress and the premier of the State Council will be named vice presidents. Also, a central secretary office will be put in place under the Central Committee to oversee routine affairs of the party, the government and the military.

If this plan is implemented, Xi will take control of the party, the government and the military through the central secretary office. Media outlets in China reported that Wang Qishan, secretary of the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection, and Premier Li Keqiang, who are close to President Xi, are most likely candidates for the vice presidents. Also, Li Zhanshu, Xi’s chief of staff, is being mentioned as the most likely candidate for the general secretary for the central secretary office.

If Xi follows past practice, he is set to retire as president in 2022. For this reason, he should appoint his successor and send in the next president and the next premier to the Standing Committee before the Party Congress in November next year. However, watchers say that President Xi will not appoint his successor and instead may stay in power even after 2022. "President Xi is blocking potential successors from getting promotion,” the Wall Street Journal reported on Monday quoting multiple sources in the Chinese Communist Party. “This may reflect his intention not to hand over power even after 2022, when his second term (five years) is scheduled to end.”

A Communist Party source, who reportedly meets with the top Chinese leadership regularly, told the Wall Street Journal that “Such an attempt to prolong one-man rule is copied after the Putin model." The Chinese leader may thus seek to prolong his one-man rule like Russian President Vladimir Putin, rather than being bound by the practice of retirement after 10-year rule. At the plenary session of the sixth Central Committee meeting of the 18th Party Congress in October, Xi was given the title of "Core Leader," which signaled strengthening of Xi’s power.

Analysts also say the fact that Xi gave the right to interrogate and the right to forfeit wealth to the Inspection Committee, a new independent investigation agency that was established to probe corruptions committed by government officials, is also closely related with Xi’s bid to solidify his grip in power. Empowering of the Inspection Committee will naturally lead to empowerment of Secretary Wang, Xi’s closest aide who is overseeing the agency.

The South China Morning Post in Hong Kong reported on December 9 that there is a chance President Xi will reduce the number of members on the Politburo Standing Committee, and keep Secretary Wang in the post by breaking the unwritten rule suggesting that a standing committee member retires after age 68. If the unwritten rule is to be followed, five of the current seven members, except President Xi and Premier Li, should retire. The newspaper said if five members retire, Xi will likely only select three new members including Wang, and thus increase his influence within the Standing Committee.

Ja-Ryong Koo bonhong@donga.com