A long practiced factional politics seems to be losing its strength under Xi Jinping leadership. This assessment is not unfounded. Judging his past five years, Xi executed unprecedented moves unlike his two immediate predecessors, Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao. He has demonstrated a willingness to break long-standing party traditions and install his style of governance and statecraft in its place.
Firstly, the arrest and life imprisonment of Zhou Yongkang, then security tsar who commanded more domestic security budget than military. The verdict made on Zhou had set a strict example for other “tigers”, a euphemism for high-ranking officials not to rely on unspoken rule that no current or former standing committee member of the Politburo would be investigated for corruption or other criminal activities.
Secondly, the restructuring of the world’s largest army and willingness to carryout the long pending military reform. Xi has not only reduce the strength of the People’s Liberation Army, but also reorganized the military regions from seven to five theater commands, once thought impossible due to deeply ingrained vested interest.
Thirdly, the arrest of two former vice-chairmen of the powerful Central Military Commission, Xu Caihou and Guo Boxiong both on charges of corruption and abuse of power have undoubtedly shaken the power base of individual generals.
Fourthly, the Communist Youth League best known for fast track promotion for its honchos started to diminish its influence since Xi came to power in 2012. This all germinated when Ling Jihua, once a top-aide to former president Hu Jintao was demoted in 2012 apparently due to his son’s involvement in a Ferrari scandal just ahead of 18th Party Congress. Ling was eventually investigated for corruption and sentenced to imprisonment for life.
In line with a sign of tightening in ideology, the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection criticized the League in failing to uphold its founding principle. The criticism went further to blame some officials of the beleaguered League for behaving like “political aristocrats” and the recent demotion of the League’s first secretary Qen Yizhi impedes its already trivial status.
And lastly, just months ahead of the 19th party congress, Sun Zhengcai the youngest member of the 25-member strong Politburo and once considered a top contender for a role in China’s next leadership was implicated for corruption and expelled from the communist party. Sun’s downfall was reportedly attributed to the Chongqing municipality police chief, He Ting. One of the allegations surrounding Sun’s fall from the grace is that Sun protected his longtime schoolmate He, who had been a protégé of disgraced security tsar Zhou Yongkang, from investigation when they were working together in Chongqing.
From the said indications, one can possibly discern that Xi leaves very little room for factional politics. This certainly begets an important question. Will Xi defy the conventional retirement rule based on age?
Some argue that Xi might break the unwritten rule set by Jiang Zemin in 2002. One interesting speculative theory is that if Xi picks his protégés from the putative seventh generation leaders into the Politburo knowing that they do not hold necessary credential for Politburo promotion such as provincial level party secretary experience serves as a pretext for Xi to remain in the PSC to be their mentor till their high-level political maturity.
Conversely, there are scholars who believe that Xi will respect and follow the long-standing party traditions. In his series of articles, Andrei Lungu presents a theory based on five signs to strengthen his argument that Xi will not retain Wang Qishan for one more five-year term during the 19th party congress to prolong former’s rule and leave behind a bad legacy.
To examine these assessments, the forthcoming 19th Party congress is a good indicator to gauge Xi’s true intention.
*Tenzin Tseten is a research fellow at the Tibet Policy Institute. Views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the Tibet Policy Institute.