When the Chinese Communist Party holds its convention next month, President Xi Jinping, who has already been given the designation of “core” leader, is expected to make every effort to concentrate power with himself. Japan needs to work out its strategy toward China by carefully watching the developments in Beijing and the setup of a new Chinese leadership.
The CCP convention, held every five years, will open on Oct. 18. During the last party convention in 2012, Xi was elected to his first term as party general secretary. Following this year’s convention, the party’s Central Committee will hold a plenary meeting and launch a new leadership under Xi’s second term.
Xi’s domestic policy has been made up of two pillars — political regimentation characterized by crackdowns on pro-democracy movements and a vigorous campaign to eradicate corruption among party and government officials. On the foreign policy front, Xi is intent on aggressively pursuing China’s maritime interests while pushing the “One Belt, One Road” initiative, a cross-continental infrastructure development project widely deemed as an attempt at expanding China’s international clout.
At the party convention, changes to party rule and personnel shake-ups will take center stage. Xi’s thoughts and theories on nation management may be incorporated into the party rules. An amendment to the party rules to specifically mention “Xi Jinping thought” or “Xi Jinping theory” would help greatly bolster his authority within the party.
Xi has used his anti-corruption campaign as a means of purging his political foes. Recently four military leaders were either taken into custody or replaced for breach of discipline. At the party convention, Xi will likely try to tighten his control of the military through a personnel shake-up of the party’s Central Military Commission.
What happens to the personnel setup of the party’s 25-member Politburo, which includes the powerful seven-member Standing Committee, will be a key question at the convention. About 10 members of the Politburo are set to retire due to the retirement age of 68, including five members of the Standing Committee except Xi and Premier Li Keqiang.
Among the stronger candidates for membership of the Standing Committee are Chen Miner, Communist Party secretary of the city of Chongqing, and Li Zhanshu, director of the General Office of the Communist Party, both of whom are close to Xi. Chen succeeded Sun Zhengcai as the top official of the city, who fell from power in July when he was investigated for serious breach of discipline. Sun, then a Politburo member, had been counted among officials likely to be part of the post-Xi Chinese leadership. Wang Yang, one of the four vice premiers, is also likely to be promoted to the Standing Committee. The promotion of Wang, close to former President Hu Jintao, Xi’s political rival, is regarded as part of Xi’s effort to strike a balance in personnel matters and appease Hu’s group.
Another point in the leadership shake-up is how Xi will treat Wang Qishan, secretary of the Communist Party’s General Commission for Discipline Inspection, who led the anti-corruption campaign as Xi’s lieutenant. Exposing corrupt party officials through the campaign has incurred enmity within the party. If the party rules are strictly applied, Wang, who is 69, must retire. There has been speculation that Xi may retain him as a Standing Committee member by extending his retirement age as a special measure.
There are also rumors that Xi might seek to revive the post of Communist Party president — which was abolished in 1982 in favor of a collective leadership system — or that he will seek a third term for himself five years later. Such a prospect remains unclear, however, since attempts to arbitrarily bend the rules could trigger power struggles within the party.
Aside from the issues of the party rules and the intraparty personnel affairs, Japan needs to watch out for the future direction of Xi’s foreign policy. Foreign Minister Wang Yi explains that the basic tenets of Xi’s diplomacy are China’s “peaceful” development, the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation and building a new type of international relations based on cooperation and co-prosperity to create a human community bound together by a common destiny. At the same time, Wang stresses that China will make no concessions in such matters as the territorial issues in the East and South China seas and the Taiwan and Hong Kong questions, which constitute China’s “core interests.”
Despite the strained and frigid bilateral ties in recent years, Xi and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe agreed in their July meeting on the sidelines of the Group of 20 summit in Hamburg, Germany, that they will push for improvement and stabilization of the relationship. After the party convention has concluded, both Tokyo and Beijing should reconfirm their determination to improve relations and step up dialogue. Earlier, Abe gave conditional support to Xi’s One Belt, One Road initiative — a sign that Japan is ready to rebuild relations with China. Given North Korea’s repeated nuclear weapons and ballistic missile tests, cooperation among Japan, China and the United States is indispensable.