News analysis

Xi's political thoughts may enter party charter soon

Enshrining his political thinking in party ideology would further enhance his status

For some days now, President Xi Jinping and some key top leaders of China have been absent from the prime-time news bulletin of the state-run China Central Television.

The word is that they have converged on the seaside resort of Beidaihe, 280km east of the capital, for their annual summer confab.

This year's event is special in that it precedes the Chinese Communist Party's five-yearly national congress, slated to take place in autumn, where several of the party's top leaders are expected to step down in favour of younger cadres.

But with Mr Xi's grip on power stronger than ever, he is expected to have his way in appointing mainly his coterie to positions in the 25-member Politburo and the apex seven-member Politburo standing committee.

Instead, the buzz among the chattering classes is whether Mr Xi's status will be enhanced further through the writing of his political thinking into the party Constitution.

This follows his elevation to the status of "core" leader in October last year at a central committee meeting that cemented his consolidation of power. He had taken over the party reins at the 18th party congress in 2012.

Recent comments by political heavyweights on the need for Mr Xi's political thoughts to be diligently studied and put into practice have been seen as signals that these would be written into the party charter at the upcoming 19th congress.

The latest remarks inferred as a sign come from Beijing party chief Cai Qi, a protege of Mr Xi, in an article in the party newspaper People's Daily on Monday. Mr Cai wrote about persisting in using "General Secretary Xi's important thought as a banner to lead the way".

Last month, State Councillor Yang Jiechi, who oversees foreign affairs, wrote about studying and implementing "General Secretary Xi Jinping's thought on diplomacy in a deep-going way" in an article in a party magazine, Qiushi.

This thinking, he wrote, represents the central committee's "new governing philosophy and strategy as they apply to diplomacy, and is an integral part of the theories of socialism with distinctive Chinese features".

In the same month, an editorial in another party journal, Dangjian Yanjiu or Research On Party Building, said: "The innovative theories since the Party's 18th National Congress, which can be called Xi Jinping Thoughts, are the new result of localising Marxism in China and developing the Socialist Theory with Chinese Characteristics."

The piece called Mr Xi's thinking the most vibrant form of Marxism seen in modern China.

There were already inklings that the formulation of Mr Xi's political thinking was under way at the March meetings of the Chinese Parliament, the National People's Congress, and the top political advisory body, the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference.

The Xinhua state news agency published a piece then titled China's Two Sessions To Highlight Xi's Thoughts. It said: "Xi's governance thoughts, ranging from economic and social reform to foreign affairs and military transformation, have been greatly influencing the country's course."

It quoted an analyst as saying "Xi's thoughts on state governance will be more clear-cut" through the March meetings.

If what is written into the party charter is described as Xi Jinping Thought, then Mr Xi would become only the third Chinese leader to have his name included in his "banner term" or qizhiyu.

The other two are communist China's founding father Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping, who set China on the path to pragmatism and prosperity with his reform and opening-up programme in 1978.

Mr Xi's two predecessors, Mr Jiang Zemin and Mr Hu Jintao, did not have their names in their banner terms. Mr Jiang's Three Represents, encompassing entrepreneurs hitherto excluded from the party, was written into the party charter in 2002 as he was stepping down. Mr Hu's Scientific Outlook On Development, about building a socialist harmonious society, was added to the party Constitution midway through the leader's term in 2007.

The formulation of Mr Xi's banner term as Xi Jinping Thought would also place him next to Mao - whose banner term is Mao Zedong Thought - and ahead of Deng and his Deng Xiaoping Theory as "theory" stands below "thought" in China, according to analysts.

However, political analyst Wang Zhengxu of Fudan University in Shanghai suggested that the banner term might also take a phrasing without Mr Xi's name in it, such as Theory Of Socialism With Chinese Characteristics.

As for why the writing of Mr Xi's political thinking into the party Constitution is being done, Professor Wang thinks it is a way through which Mr Xi could realise his mission. "He has put forth a vision and a set of masterplans and action plans, and wants to see them materialise," said Prof Wang.

He added that it is also because of a belief that, after 40 years of development since the 1980s, a "coherent and comprehensive theoretical-ideological framework" is needed to guide the party and the country's development.

What this move would signify, said Hong Kong-based analyst Willy Lam, is that while Mr Xi might have his enemies, at this stage, there is nobody who can challenge him politically.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 12, 2017, with the headline Xi's political thoughts may enter party charter soon. Subscribe