Yes, Xi Jinping Is Now More Powerful Than Mao Zedong Ever Was
After being re-elected as head of the Communist Party last year, the Chinese leader has been unanimously re-elected to another five-year term as head of state. Now, wielding more power than any other past Chinese communist leader, he wants to accelerate the rise of Chinese influence around the world.
BEIJING — Chinese Communist Party leader Xi Jinping has been re-elected to a third five-year term at the head of the world's second largest economic power. Nobody was surprised.
The vote took place during a legislative assembly convened to rubber stamp decisions of the authoritarian power, during which 2,952 parliamentarians unanimously approved Xi's re-election before rising, in perfect choreography, to offer a prolonged standing ovation to their leader. As usual, Xi remained completely neutral in the face of the enthusiasm.
His victory was a mere formality after his re-election last fall as the head of the all-powerful party, which controls all of the country's political institutions, and after legislative amendments to erase term limits that would have forced him out.
Xi Jinping, who took over the presidency in 2013, "is now the most powerful leader in the history of the People's Republic, since its founding in 1949. Institutionally, he holds even more power than Mao Zedong," says Suisheng Zhao, a professor and Chinese foreign policy expert at the University of Denver.
No other Chinese leader has remained as head of state for 10 years — not even Mao, the founding father of Communist China.
Many experts believe that Xi, who is 69 years old, will decide how long he will remain head of the country. "He has gradually changed the decision-making system in the government from a consensus-building model to one in which Xi is in charge," Zhao says. "He has placed only trusted men on the party's Politburo Standing Committee, chosen for their loyalty to him and his ideology, not for their merits."
He's in a position to rule China for at least 10 years, if not for life.
Deemed a little too liberal and too focused on growth over ideology, Premier Li Keqiang will be replaced in the next few days by the more loyal Li Qiang, who has no ministerial experience. "It is now impossible to identify any rival," Zhao says. "Xi Jinping is thus in a position to rule China for at least 10 years, if not for life."
By upending the rules of power and drawing key decision-makers closer to himself, Xi has taken apart much of the administrative and political reforms made by Deng Xiaoping in the 1980s, which were put in place to prevent a single individual from taking control of the entire Chinese political system and to avoid repeating the trauma of the last years of Mao's rule.
Challenging the United States
At the peak of his power, Xi can now accelerate the "rebirth" of China — something he has defined, since his arrival at the head of the country in 2012, as the Communist Party's most important mission.
"For him, only the Communist Party can understand the different movements of history, and succeed in reviving the Chinese nation by erasing the humiliations of the past, when the honor of China was scorned by external forces," Bates Gill, director of the Asia Society's China Analysis Center, explained in February.
To do this, the Chinese regime will have to overcome many challenges. In particular, it will have to respond to the structural decline in its economic growth, as well as to a serious demographic crisis and the growing mistrust of some foreign investors seeking alternative production sites outside the country.
Above all, it will face resistance from the United States, which has made strategic competition with China the priority of its foreign policy.
Miniature Revolutionary statues on sale in Huaibei, Anhui, China
Confronting the West
In their rare public appearances on the sidelines of legislative meetings, Chinese leaders have hinted that their country is ready for a confrontation with the West or with nations that will try to derail China's "renaissance."
Xi himself said that China faces "all-out containment, encirclement and repression" from the United States and its allies. "In the coming period, the risks and challenges we face will become more and more numerous and sinister," he warned, urging political leaders to remain "calm and focused" in order to prepare for and respond to a conflict.
As a challenge, he appointed General Li Shangfu, who was sanctioned by the U.S. government in 2018 for buying Russian weapons, as defense minister. He also reappointed central bank governor Yi Gang and finance minister Liu Kun on Sunday, although both have reached retirement age.
The tiny federated state of Micronesia, with a population of 104,000 spread across a scattered archipelago in the Pacific, is no longer tolerating pressure from Beijing, having opposed a security agreement that would have allowed the deployment of Chinese troops in the region.
They undermine our sovereignty, reject our values and use our elected officials for their own ends.
Micronesian president David Panuelo accused China of waging a "political battle" in his country and resorting to espionage, corruption and harassment in an incendiary letter to his country's parliament on Friday.
He added that the Chinese regime has "demonstrated a great capacity to undermine our sovereignty, reject our values and use our elected officials for its own ends."
Beijing has responded, calling the letter "slander."