Dictator Xi Jinping officially secured his expected third term as General Secretary of the Chinese Communist Party and chairman of its Central Military Commission on Sunday.
Xi enters these unprecedented additional years of power with a Politburo stuffed full of his loyal “minions,” as former student protest leader Wang Dan put it to Radio Free Asia (RFA) on Sunday.
“It’s obvious looking at the line-up that Xi will also want a fourth term. He has made no arrangement whatsoever for a successor. There won’t even be a fourth term: he’s going to do this until he dies,” Wang predicted.
As RFA noted, Xi himself came to power in 2012 as the designated successor to Communist leader Hu Jintao. Hu was in the audience for Xi’s coronation as dictator-for-life over the weekend — until a couple of goons manhandled the 79-year-old Hu and dragged him out of the chamber for no apparent reason. Hu’s name was then sandblasted off Chinese social media by Xi’s vast army of censors.
Having thus made the clearest statement of absolute supremacy over his predecessors that did not involve lodging a bullet in someone’s forehead, Xi proceeded to stuff the 25-member Politburo and its almighty seven-member Standing Committee with lieutenants who have presumably been stripped of all illusions about becoming Xi’s heir apparent.
Li Qiang, the Shanghai Communist Party chief who once seemed like he might become the fall guy for Shanghai’s disastrous coronavirus lockdown last summer, was instead promoted to become Xi’s Number Two man and appears likely to be named premier to replace the aged-out Li Keqiang.
Political analyst Chen Daoyin told RFA Li’s ascension was a way for Xi to double down on his coronavirus lockdown policies, sending a clear signal that Li did nothing wrong when two months of horror were inflicted on Shanghai. The promotion of Li is a way for Xi to signal that “zero Covid” policies are here to stay, and criticism of them will not be entertained.
“Li Qiang has been widely criticized internationally for the damage he caused with the Shanghai lockdown, but his unwavering implementation of Xi’s zero-COVID policy reflects his loyalty,” Chen said.
Besides Xi and Li, the other five members of the Standing Committee are men who have served Xi Jinping directly during his rise to power: Zhao Leji, Wang Huning, Cai Qi, Ding Xuexiang and Li Xi.
Ding, who was Xi’s top aide, was widely seen as a shoo-in for the Standing Committee, as were Li Xi, the Communist Party secretary for the vital coastal city of Guangdong, and Cai Qi, Party chief of the capital city of Beijing.
At just 60 years young, Ding is now the youngest member of the Politburo. If Xi decides to hand over the reins of power to a trusted successor at some point, it will probably be Ding — who literally wrote “safeguarding the core position of General Secretary Xi Jinping, instead of anyone else” into Communist Party regulations as a top priority in 2019. Ding is also a very energetic proponent of the idea that all of China’s problems stem from the failure of local officials to follow Xi’s genius orders with perfect fidelity.
“[Ding] accompanies Xi to virtually all of his official engagements and is responsible for managing his agendas, briefings and meetings. Perhaps no one has spent more time with Xi in the last five years,” Eurasia Group senior analyst Neil Thomas told the South China Morning Post (SCMP).
Sydney University of Technology associate professor Feng Chongyi derisively noted that Cai, Li, Ding, and Wang have no managerial skills or experience — their only qualification is that they “execute Xi’s orders at all costs” and are happy to serve as his “stenographers.”
Wang Huning is a noted academic and philosopher of Xi’s pet political theory, “neo-authoritarianism.” Zhao Leji is a holdover from the previous Standing Committee who rose to fame as Xi’s “anti-corruption” enforcer.
A somewhat surprising omission was Chen Miner, a Xi Jinping favorite who made it into the Political Bureau of the Communist Party Central Committee, but not into the Standing Committee. Chen is a clone of Xi who has been credited with spreading the dictator’s influence throughout the Chinese Communist Party.
According to Chen Daoyin, the new Politburo and Standing Committee are meant to signal a more aggressive Chinese government with an even tighter authoritarian grip. Chen referred to Xi’s approach as “digital totalitarianism” and noted he has even “greater enforcement powers” than the tyrannical mass-murdering founder of the Chinese Communist Party, Mao Zedong.
Feng saw grim omens in the deeply unimpressive resumes of Xi’s Politburo minions, which presage an end to China’s focus on economic growth, reform, and “opening up” to the outside world. In keeping with that prediction, Feng thought Hu was given the bum’s rush, with no consideration for his age or failing health, because he was likely upset that his influential reformist ally Hu Chunhua was denied a seat on the Standing Committee.
Hu Chunhua, nicknamed “Little Hu” because he was so close to his mentor Hu Jintao, was booted out of the Politburo entirely after holding a seat for ten years and building some buzz as a candidate for premier. Hu was relatively “liberal,” certainly compared to Xi and his host of minions, so the ignominious end of his political career was taken as another sign of Xi’s turn to despotic control.
Also shown the door was Chen Quanguo, who was once the Communist Party chief for the oppressed regions of Xinjiang and Tibet. Chen was bumped out of the Central Committee — essentially the waiting room for prospective Politburo members — even though he is two years younger than the common retirement age of 68, and several older officials were kept in their positions, including 69-year-old Foreign Minister Wang Yi.
He is one of the Chinese officials most heavily sanctioned by Western governments for human rights abuses in Xinjiang, but that would normally seem like a reason for Xi to keep him around as an act of arrogant defiance.
In another act of defiance toward Western values, Xi got rid of Sun Chunlan, the only female member of the Politburo and its nominal “Covid czar.”
The UK Guardian noted China has been setting one or two Politburo seats aside for women since 1997. Sun was “one of only three women who have made it that far as political operators in their own right — rather than as wives of powerful men or propaganda tools — in over 70 years of Communist rule.”
China’s state-run Global Times ignored these grim omens to declare Xi’s new Politburo was ready to embark on an exciting “new journey” to “promote humanity’s shared values.”
“Analysts said the new central leadership of the Party with a strong core leadership, demonstrated solid unity, which is a key advantage and essential element for the Party to handle complex challenges and accomplish new great missions in the future, and to withstand ‘dangerous storms’ in a turbulent world together,” the Global Times gushed, predicting despite all evidence that Xi will “open the door wider to the rest of the world.”
The Chinese Communist paper then went on to explain how Xi can somehow posture as a champion of “humanity’s shared values” despite running concentration camps for ethnic minorities and using them as forced labor:
The concept of “humanity’s shared values” presented by the CPC is very different from the “universal values” promoted by the West, experts said. Based on the facts about the destruction and chaos in the non-Western world that has been caused by major Western powers, these so-called “universal values” actually serve as a pretext for hegemony to bully, interfere in and invade other nations, and the “values” are actually dividing the world rather than uniting it, as the West, especially the US, uses these concepts to create “enemies and competitors” to unite its own allies and followers, despite being guilty of hypocrisy and double-standards in many cases.
But the CPC’s concept of “humanity’s shared values” is inclusive and aims to unite all members of the international community and all civilizations, which also include civilizations in the Western world, and China under the CPC’s leadership will always oppose and fight hegemony that threatens world peace, and will never follow the suit of hegemony or imperialism in the past to repeat the bloody and brutal path of rising in the new journey toward its Second Centenary Goal, experts said.
This moralistic posturing is meant to hide that what China ostensibly offers the world is “stability” — the kind of stability that comes from absolute authoritarian rule, which the Global Times euphemistically referred to as “strong leadership.” Everything about Xi’s remodeled Politburo suggests that challenging his leadership in any way has become profoundly dangerous.