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Chinese Communist party clears way for Xi to tighten grip on power

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The Chinese Communist party has passed its first “historical resolution” in 40 years, in a development likely to pave the way for President Xi Jinping to stay in office until at least 2028.

The resolution, formally adopted by the party’s central committee at the end of its annual meeting, or plenum, on Thursday, declared that Xi’s leadership was “the key to the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation”, according to a summary published by the official Xinhua news agency.

The central committee typically holds one plenum a year, attended by its 370 full and alternate members at a military hotel on the western outskirts of Beijing. This week’s plenum opened on Monday and is particularly significant because it comes just a year before a party congress will appoint a new leadership team to serve until 2027.

Communist China’s two most revered leaders, Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping, used similar resolutions to secure their grip on power in 1945 and 1981, respectively. By declaring that “the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation has entered an irreversible historical process” under Xi’s leadership, the party has effectively anointed him as an equal of Mao and Deng, eclipsing his predecessors Hu Jintao and Jiang Zemin.

Xi, the plenum said, had “resolved many problems that [the party] failed to address for a long time despite intending to do so”.

Hu and Jiang both presided over peaceful and orderly transitions of power, with their successors identified five years in advance. Xi, however, is expected to dispense with this tradition and secure a third five-year term as the party’s general secretary late next year.

Xi did not identify a successor at the start of his second term in 2017. His third term as president would begin in March 2023.

“The central purpose of the plenum is to cement Xi as [China’s] most important leader since Mao and Deng,” said Henry Gao, a China expert at Singapore Management University.

Mao led the party to its revolutionary victory in 1949 while Deng set it on course to be a global economic power with his “reform and opening” policies introduced in the early 1980s.

But Xi has discarded what many regard as Deng’s greatest accomplishments, such as the introduction of a two-term limit on the presidency and clearer party-state divisions, while emphasising the egalitarian ideals of the revolution and Mao’s early years in power.

“The plenum’s message is the reform era has reached such a stage that now the party can embark on the construction of a ‘socialist modern country’, and the emphasis here is on ‘socialist’,” Gao said.

The plenum declared that “the Chinese people are not only good at destroying old worlds, but also good at building new worlds”. “Only socialism,” it added, “can save and develop China.”

Xi orchestrated similar moves to reinforce his power towards the end of his first term. A central committee plenum in late 2016 declared him to be “the core” of the party leadership. In early 2018, he secured party and parliamentary approval to remove the two-term limit on the presidency, potentially allowing him to stay in power for life.

Tom Mitchell in Singapore, Sun Yu in Shanghai and Xinning Liu in Beijing

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