With the world’s attention turned to the Cop26 summit in Glasgow, the absence of a certain world leader, who was “not allowed to join the main stage by video link” some 8,000 km away has left a glaring, gaping hole in world leaders’ commitments to achieving net-zero.
Turns out, Chinese president Xi Jinping is not a hard man to find.
Today the Chinese Communist Party’s decision-making Central Committee will gather 370 members of the Party’s political and military elite in Beijing for the sixth and penultimate plenum of Xi’s second five-year term. The meeting, spearheaded by Xi, is a historic event, something that has happened only three times since the existence of the Party. On the agenda for the four-day meeting is only one item, a resolution on the “important achievements and historical experiences of the party’s 100 years of struggle”.
However, speculation in the West has begun circulating that this agenda item masks none other than the path for Xi to smoothly move into an unprecedented third term as president at the Chinese Communist party’s 20thcongress next year. In 2018, he secured support for the removal of the two-term limit on the presidency and a vote passed at the annual sitting of the National People’s Congress. The vote effectively had allowed Xi Jinping to remain in power for life, elevating him to the status of Chairman Mao.
The importance of this meeting is hard to stress enough: in 1945, the first meeting of its kind was called by Mao, to discuss the historical cultural revolution taking hold of China. In 1981, president Deng Xiaoping called the second ever meeting of its kind to abhor the revolution started by Mao, who led China into “domestic turmoil and brought catastrophe”. During this second meeting, Deng put term limits in place for the country’s presidency to avoid the country from ever being subjected again to crushing dictatorship. The move in the 1980s aimed to avert the “return of a one-man rule or a cult of personality by preventing leaders from staying in power indefinitely”.
And yet, Xi seems to be picking and choosing from history to rewrite the country’s present.
Xi has managed to consolidate his grip on power at a crucial juncture for the country. Domestically, the president has managed to quell any real opposition and silence critics, purging the security apparatus, promoting political allies and unleashing the party’s regulators on big private firms. Externally, Xi has helmed China for the better part of a decade through hard power diplomacy.
The Economist calls Xi’s presidency a continuation and a progression of what his two most prominent predecessors achieved before him. If Mao helped the Chinese people “stand up” after a century of humiliation by foreign powers, and Deng set China on the course to “get rich”, Xi is helping China “get strong”.
Whether this policy will help China stay its course during the future troubles to come, we’re none the wiser.