'Xi Jinping Thought' enshrined in Chinese constitution

Published 24.10.2017 08:16
Chinese President Xi Jinping (front row, center) and fellow delegates raise their hands as they take a vote at the closing session of the 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China, in Beijing (Reuters Photo)
Chinese President Xi Jinping (front row, center) and fellow delegates raise their hands as they take a vote at the closing session of the 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China, in Beijing (Reuters Photo)

China's ruling Communist Party amended its constitution to add President Xi Jinping's name and ideology Tuesday in an extension of his formidable political sway.

Xi's concept of "socialism with Chinese characteristics for a new era" was added to the party constitution at the close of a twice-a-decade major congress.

"The Chinese people and nation have a great and bright future ahead," Xi told party delegates as the meeting came to a close.

"At this great time, we feel more self-confident and proud. At the same time, we also deeply feel a heavy sense of responsibility," he said.

The concept Xi has touted is seen as marking a break from the stage of economic reform ushered in by Deng Xiaoping in the late 1970s and continued under his successors Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao.

In a sign of Xi's greater clout, his name was attached to his theory, putting him on par with Deng and communist China's founder, Mao Zedong.

The placement of Xi's thought among the party's leading guidelines also comes five years into his term — earlier than his predecessors.

Xi has described his concept as central to setting China on the path of securing a "decisive victory in building a moderately prosperous society in all respects." He's set the target dates of 2021 — the 100th anniversary of the party's founding — and the People's Republic's centenary in 2049 — for the establishment of a prosperous, modern society.

While China has the world's second-largest economy and legions of newly wealthy urban residents, it continues to rank 79th in the world in terms of per capita gross domestic product, according to the International Monetary Fund.

The move came at the close of the 89 million-member party's twice-a-decade national congress at Beijing's hulking Great Hall of the People, where nearly 2,300 delegates gathered to elect the party's leading bodies and hear reports.

Although the delegates nominally have the power to vote on candidates, all choices are carefully vetted and the outcomes decided by negotiations among the top leaders.

The details of Xi's political theory are not new, but experts say the content of his "thought" is not even that important. The fact that he has decided to name the start of a "new era" shows his level of power.

"It is the era for Xi Jinping," said Zhang Ming, a former professor at Renmin University. "The importance is that he opened a new era, his era."

The fact that his philosophy has been enshrined into the party charter as a "thought" as opposed to a "theory" shows that he might be at the same level as Mao, who founded modern China, and above Deng, who opened its markets.

"In China's discourse system, thought is stronger than theory," said political commentator Deng Yuwen.

Nevertheless, his philosophy being added to the constitution with a descriptor - as opposed to simply "Xi Jinping Thought" - could show that he occupies a level slightly below Mao, who is still venerated in China.

Xi promises, in his philosophy, to address China's "unbalanced and inadequate development."

During his first five-year term, Xi has been criticized for being slow to enact necessary reforms, bolstering underperforming state-owned enterprises and restricting the private sector.

"The real economy awaits improvement, and we have a long way to go in protecting the environment," Xi said during a three-and-a-half-hour speech last week. "We must devote great energy to addressing development imbalances and inadequacies and push hard to improve the quality and effect of development."

Observers, however, are skeptical that this will translate into deeper reforms of China's economy, which is bogged down by rising debt and slowing growth.

"This is a kind of a self-deprecatory expression because any country's development is unbalanced and inadequate," Zhang said. "In terms of future policies... what influences can there be? The keynote means that this is his new era, and this new era is great, very extraordinary. No other meanings."

"In the end, I think of Xi Jinping Thought as supporting continued party dominance over society, a more assertive foreign policy stance, and a greater emphasis on anti-corruption," said Rory Truex, Assistant Professor of Politics and International Affairs at Princeton University. "All of these trends serve to help Xi himself."

The new Central Committee will hold its first plenum Wednesday, during which it is expected to appoint Xi for his second term as party leader and select the Politburo Standing Committee, China's highest decision-making body.

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