Xi’s Power Play Foreshadows Historic Transformation of How China Is Ruled

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Party insiders say president wants to remain in office after his second term, breaking succession conventions.

BEIJING— Jeremy Page and Lingling Wei report: China’s Communist Party elite was craving a firm hand on the tiller when it chose Xi Jinping for the nation’s top job in 2012. Over the previous decade, President Hu Jintao’s power-sharing approach had led to policy drift, factional strife and corruption.

The party’s power brokers got what they wanted—and then some.

Four years on, Mr. Xi has taken personal charge of the economy, the armed forces and most other levers of power, overturning a collective-leadership system introduced to protect against one-man rule after the death of Mao Zedong in 1976.

Shattering old taboos, Mr. Xi has targeted party elders and their kin in an antigraft crusade, demanded fealty from all 89 million party members, and honed a paternalistic public image as Xi Dada, or Big Papa Xi.

Now, as he nears the end of his first five-year term, many party insiders say Mr. Xi is trying to block promotion of a potential successor next year, suggesting he wants to remain in office after his second term expires in 2022, when he would be 69 years old.

Mr. Xi, who is president, party chief and military commander, “wants to keep going” after 2022 and to explore a leadership structure “just like the Putin model,” says one party official who meets regularly with top leaders. Several others with access to party leaders and their relatives say similar things. The government’s main press office declined to comment for this article, and Mr. Xi couldn’t be reached for comment.

[Read the full story here, at WSJ]

Mr. Xi’s efforts to secure greater authority may help ensure political stability in the short run, as an era-defining economic boom starts to falter. But they risk upending conventions developed since Mao’s death to allow flexibility in government and ensure a regular and orderly transition of power.

Concern is rising among China’s elite that the nation is shifting toward a rigid form of autocracy ill-suited to managing a complex economy. China’s array of challenges includes weaning the economy off debt-fueled stimulus spending, breaking up state monopolies and cleaning up the environment.

“His dilemma is that he can’t get things done without power,” says Huang Jing, an expert on Chinese politics at the National University of Singapore. “He feels the need to centralize, but then he risks undermining these institutions designed to prevent a very powerful leader becoming a dictator.”

Chinese President Xi Jinping, left, and Premier Li Keqiang arrived for the opening session of the National People's Congress in March.
Chinese President Xi Jinping, left, and Premier Li Keqiang arrived for the opening session of the National People’s Congress in March. Photo: Agence France-Presse/Getty Image

Mr. Xi’s supporters say he still faces resistance within the party, and needs to modernize leadership structures to confront the slowing economy and a hostile West.

At a meeting of 348 party leaders in October that granted Mr. Xi another title—“core” leader—he railed against indiscipline and warned of senior officials who “lusted for power, feigned compliance and formed factions and gangs.”

Since then, many party members have signed written pledges of “absolute loyalty.” In a speech in October, the party chief of Henan province, Xie Fuzhan, hailed Mr. Xi as a “great leader”—words usually reserved for Mao.

[Read the more here, at WSJ]

Hours before Donald Trump’s election victory, China officially launched its own convoluted process for selecting a new national leadership team, to be unveiled at a twice-a-decade party congress next fall. Up to five of the seven members of the Politburo Standing Committee, China’s top leadership body, are due to retire.

Only Mr. Xi and Premier Li Keqiang would remain if the party observes the precedent, established in 2002, that leaders over age 67 step down. Read the rest of this entry »


Crackdown: Chinese Communist Party Warns Officials: ‘Calligraphy Isn’t for Amateurs’

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Doing calligraphy, along with playing badminton, is a one of the few hobbies government officials in China admit to having

James T. Areddy and Lilian Lin report: Officials should put down their calligraphy brushes and stick to governing.

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“The problem today, according to the editorial, comes when officials promote their squiggles as valuable works of art.”

A new warning to officials about their calligraphy is the latest anti-corruption guideline from the Chinese Communist Party’s Central Commission for Discipline Inspection.

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“Officials should put down their calligraphy brushes and stick to governing.”

Wang Qishan, the Politburo Standing Committee member who heads the party’s anti-graft commission, hit out at the traditional craft during a plenary meeting of the organization last week in Beijing, and the message was backed up by an editorial from the agency posted on Tuesday to its website.

Central Commission for Discipline Inspection

Central Commission for Discipline Inspection

Officials shouldn’t “grab meat from the plates of artists,” the editorial said.

Doing calligraphy, along with playing badminton, is a one of the few hobbies government officials in China tend to admit to having. State leaders often pen well-wishes in calligraphy when they drop into companies around the country, creating valuable mementos that tend to get BN-GN087_callig_E_20150120025827displayed in prominent spots in the companies.

 “As you have promised to make contribution to the party and to the country, why are you greedy for an unnecessary title for unjustified interests?”

Officials can be forgiven for thinking it’s OK to strive for recognition in calligraphy, an art form associated with erudition and wisdom. Chinese leaders from Qing dynasty emperor Qianlong to Mao Zedong have been celebrated for their ability to put brush to paper, though there is some debate as to whether the latter’s distinctive style deserved the praise the Communist Party has lavished upon it ever since.

The problem today, according to the editorial, comes when officials promote their squiggles as valuable works of art. Read the rest of this entry »