Absolute powers accorded to Xi Jinping in the selection of cadres is demonstrated by the fact that the 2022 ‘Regulations’ put ‘adherence to the guidance of Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era’ to prominence.
On 19 September, People’s Daily, the mouthpiece of the Communist Party of China (CPC) published the newly revised “Regulations on the selection and appointment of leading cadres of the party and government” (hereafter, Regulations). The “Regulations” were issued by the General Office of the Central Committee of the CPC, after these were deliberated upon and revised by the Standing Committee of the Political Bureau of the CPC Central Committee in August this year. The revision has been carried out on the “Regulations” that were issued in 2015, and is unprecedented and capable of rendering wrong all the predictions made by China hands in terms of promotion and retirement of CPC stalwarts in the Party and government for the prospective 20th Party Congress to be held in October 2022. How are the new “Regulations” different from the old ones?
One, the Articles 4, 5 and 6 of the 2015 “Regulations” categorically use terms such as “retire upon attaining the age” (到龄免职), “retire at the end of their term”(任期届满离任), “retirement age limit” (任职年龄界限), “tenure system” (任期制度), “number of terms” (届数) and “the maximum term” (最高任职年限) etc., clearly demonstrating that these were sort of hard rules implemented in principle since the 1990s. Other stipulations such as the cadres shall adhere to the CPC ideals and beliefs, honesty, and whether they have a sense of responsibility, lack objectivity, flexibility etc., were secondary limits. The new version of the “Regulations”, therefore, abolishes the term limit, as well as the convention of “seven up and eight down” not only for Xi Jinping himself, but across the spectrum and gives the “core leader” absolute powers in the selection, appointment and removal of cadres from the Party and government alike.
Implying that my speculation about Politburo Standing Committee of the 20th Party Congress could go wrong, I had argued that there would be two-three changes in the Standing Committee of the Political Bureau if the age-limit convention, excluding for Xi (69), is followed. According to the rule of “seven up eight down” (七上八下) initiated since the 15th Party Congress, Li Zhanshu (72), and Han Zheng (68) should be stepping down at the 20th Party Congress. Li Keqiang (67), Wang Yang (67), Wang Huning (67), Zhao Leji (65) should continue. If the revised “Regulations” are implemented, all Xi Jinping loyalists, irrespective of their age, could be retained and those belonging to other factions could be asked to step down. At present in the Politburo, Xi Jinping and his loyalists account for around 50%, the same may jump to 70-80% if the revised “Regulations” prevail.
Two, absolute powers accorded to Xi Jinping in the selection of cadres is also demonstrated by the fact that the 2022 “Regulations” put “adherence to the guidance of Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era” to prominence; “implementing the spirit of Xi Jinping’s speeches as was the case with the 2015 Regulations “has been dropped. While responding to reporters’ questions, an official from the General Office of the Central Committee of the CPC said that the revision was carried out in the view that the “Party Central Committee with Comrade Xi Jinping as the core has stood at the strategic height (战略高度) of leading the great social revolution (引领伟大社会革命) with the Party’s great self-revolution (党的伟大自我革命), and has made a series of measures to comprehensively and strictly govern the Party…and has made breakthroughs in solving issues related to cadres retirement..”
Three, Article 4 of the new version stipulates the “key is to solve the problem of being able to step down” (重点是解决能下问题). In and around these Party Congresses, it has been observed that in order to make a cadre “step down” the Party often slapped serious charges of corruption or misuse of power and position. Article 5 of the revised “Regulations” stipulates that a cadre who has one of the following 15 deficiencies, is deemed unsuitable for his current position. These include, lacking political ability, shaken ideals and beliefs, lacking sense of responsibility and fighting spirit, deviation from political achievements, violation of party’s principle of democratic centralism, lacking organizational concept, lacking sense of professionalism, lacking leadership quality, laxity in work, misconduct, foreign immigration related issues of cadres and their spouses, negative annual assessment, health issues, and other circumstances. It could be discerned that “absolute loyalty” is the sole benchmark, which is also reflected in the recent “death penalty commuted to life” for former justice minister, Fu Zhenghua, his associate former Jiangsu deputy governor Wang Li’ke, and the “leader of clique” Sun Lijun, the once powerful deputy minister of China’s public security. All are accused of corruption and being disloyal to Xi Jinping.
Finally, the revised “Regulations” further confirm Xi Jinping’s hold on the Party, the People’s Liberation Army, and the government. This is also an indication that in years to come, China will hold the “banner and line” of Xi Jinping’s thought, making him the most powerful leader since Mao Zedong. Abolition of the Articles 4, 5 and 6 of the 2015 “Regulations” is a pointer to the fact that these were the product of the “reform and opening up era” and are not in sync with Xi Jinping’s new era. The former mirrors China’s commitment to the liberal order, and the latter signals China taking the centre stage in global affairs and wanting to establish a new order.
If this is the case, mutual decoupling by China and the West in the new era will intensify. The ideological divide too is poised to become intense. China in the new era appears to be looking inward; no wonder, the “closed door policy” (闭关锁国) of the Ming-Qing China has been reinterpreted as “self-imposed restrictions” (自主限关) by none other than academicians from the Chinese Academy of History, a think-tank under the prestigious Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. The scholars have argued in a recent article that “the central government of the Ming and Qing dynasties adopted a foreign policy of self-imposed restrictions”. In hindsight, whether to open up, how to open up, and how wide must be the scope of opening up, falls within the ambit of national sovereignty. “Some scholars at home and abroad simply denounce it as ‘backward’, and ‘barbaric’, so much so they think that it violates the so-called ‘international law’, which is completely untenable.”
B.R. Deepak is Professor, Center of Chinese and Southeast Asian Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.