Xi Jinping is preparing for a third term, despite the growing crisis

In 47 days, China’s ruling Communist Party will hold its 20th National Congress, where Xi is expected to extend his rule for another five years, a move that would solidify his status as the country’s most powerful leader in decades.

The congress will begin in Beijing on October 16 at a “critical time” for the country, the party’s 25-member Politburo announced Tuesday, adding that preparations were “going smoothly.”

The start date is in keeping with tradition – in recent decades, the party has always held its congresses between September and November. The well-planned events usually last about a week and bring together around 2,000 delegates from across the country to demonstrate unity and legitimacy.

But this year’s congress is anything but ordinary.

Xi, who has consolidated vast power since taking office a decade ago, is widely expected to seek an unprecedented third term as China’s top leader, breaking conventions set by his predecessors since the early 1990s.

The plan has been in development for years since Xi removed the presidential term limit from the country’s constitution in 2018. But for an authoritarian leader obsessed with stability, the months leading up to this were not entirely smooth.
Xi’s insistence on a zero Covid policy has seen Cities across China impose strict restrictions to eradicate infections – an attempt that seems increasingly futile in the face of the highly contagious Omicron variant.
Its often ruthless and chaotic use — as seen during a two-month lockdown in Shanghai’s financial hub — has sparked a wave of public outcry, with many growing frustrated with the endless restrictions of their daily lives.
The zero-tolerance approach has also hurt economic growth, which has long been a source of the party’s legitimacy. Youth unemployment rose to a record high of 20%. rural banking scandal and a growing property crisis sparked mass protests.
Diplomatically, Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin declared “borderless” friendship between the two countries weeks before Moscow went to war with Ukraine. Beijing refusal acknowledging—not to mention condemning—the invasion further strained his fraying ties with the United States, Europe, and much of the developed world.

The political headwinds have sparked intense speculation about Xi’s credibility in some quarters of the overseas China-watching community, with some questioning his prospects for a third term.

But experts well versed in China’s elite politics say claims of threats to Xi’s power are grossly exaggerated. Since coming to power, Xi has carried out a wide-ranging anti-corruption crackdown to purge opponents, silence dissent and instill loyalty. He modernized and ensured firm control over the army and other important levers of power.

“Very often when problems arise, it is not necessarily bad for the supreme leader,” said Dali Young, a political scientist at the University of Chicago. “In fact, authoritarian leaders like Xi thrive on challenges and often use such crises to increase their power.”

Yang cited Xi’s ability to fill important positions of power with the help of his trusted aides – from the domestic security apparatus to the propaganda front to leadership positions in key provinces – as a sign that the top leader is firmly in control.

Xi Jinping decided to save the Communist Party.  But critics say he made himself the biggest threat

According to Deng Yuwen, a former Communist Party newspaper editor who now lives in the United States, the party’s latest convention announcement is a sign that Xi has made decisions on personnel matters and political paths.

“I don’t think there is any doubt that Xi Jinping’s term will be extended,” Deng said. said on his YouTube comment show. “The confirmation of the start date for the 20th Party Congress shows that the die has been cast and any opposition from Xi is powerless to change the situation.”
The official statement on the congress provided few details, but provided clues on the agenda, promising to make substantial progress towards “common prosperity”, advance party building, and advance “a community with a shared future for mankind.” all the catchphrases put forward by Xi.

“Xi wants to leave his political legacy at the 20th Party Congress, and these three topics will be key at the meeting, as well as political lines to be decided after the convention,” Deng said.

Holding the congress in mid-October also leaves Xi Jinping with spare time to attend major international events in November, such as the G20 summit in Indonesia. “Xi has not left the country for almost three years, and this has had a very negative impact on Chinese diplomacy,” Deng said.

As for the Chinese public, many in the past paid little attention to party congresses – they have no say in changing the country’s political leadership or in making important political decisions.

But this year, for those growing increasingly impatient and frustrated with endless lockdowns and Covid testing, news of a start date for the congress has been a welcome relief.

“Many people are looking forward to when this party convention takes place (because) they hope there can be a shift in how China is handling Covid,” Yang said.

But when and how this will happen remains to be seen.

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