Chinese President Xi Jinping is set to deliver the first resolution on Communist Party history in 40 years, giving him the mandate to potentially rule for life as a major summit wraps in Beijing.
The landmark document that could change the course of China is expected to be announced in a communique Thursday, as the party wraps up a four-day meeting. Only Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping have authored a so-called historical resolution, and both used their works to dominate party politics until they died.
The party’s powerful Central Committee has been huddled at a military hotel in Beijing since Monday, for the final major gathering before a leadership congress late next year, where Xi will seek a precedent-defying third term.
Getting that group of 400 mostly male political elites, including state leaders, military chiefs, provincial bosses and top academics, to endorse his vision of the party’s past and future will send a strong signal that Xi has the power base to remain in office.
This week’s event — the current Central Committee’s sixth full session, or “plenum” — is one of seven major summits in China’s five-year political cycle and regarded as the most important. It represents the last chance for horse-trading before the 2022 leadership congress.
Mao’s doctrine, published in 1945, focused on dismissing political enemies and establishing that only he had the “correct political line” to lead the party, four years before the People’s Republic was founded. Deng’s document weaved a more complicated narrative that condemned the chaos of Mao’s Cultural Revolution without totally discrediting him, and helped clear his own path to power.
“In both cases, the winners, Mao and Deng Xiaoping, used the Central Committee meetings and resolutions to underline the defeat of political opponents and their own pre-eminent power,” former diplomat Charles Parton, a James Cook associate fellow in Indo-Pacific geopolitics, wrote this month in a report for the Council on Geostrategy.
Xi has few political challengers to dismiss. A vast anti-corruption campaign has peeled off rivals over the past decade, meaning no one in the Standing Committee, the country’s top decision making body, has the age or experience to be a successor.
Instead, his text will celebrate a century of party history, according to previews in state media, including party tabloid the Global Times, which said this week the resolution would ask two questions: “Why were we successful in the past? How can we continue to succeed in the future?” The answer to the latter is likely to be Xi’s continuing rein.
Yu Jie, senior research fellow on China at Chatham House, said the resolution would justify an even stronger centralization of power around the party. “It also marks a real New Era of China under him, which is economically more affluent with stronger confidence to play a larger international role,” she said.
All that could have global ramifications. Whereas China was a largely sealed-off country with a tiny global financial impact when Mao and Deng dropped their documents, today Xi leads the world’s second-largest economy, one-fifth of its people and one of its most powerful militaries.
With a historical resolution under his belt, China’s most-powerful man will be emboldened to push his “common prosperity” campaign to close the wealth gap and cut dependence on the U.S.
Beijing and Washington are already clashing on everything from tech to trade and the fate of Taiwan, which China considers a breakaway province and has vowed to take by force, if necessary. While the prospect of a war remains remote, the democratically governed island has become the biggest potential flash point between the two sides.
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