China's 19th Party Congress

Two crucial events set to reveal extent of Xi Jinping's power

People walk past a poster of Chinese President Xi Jinping beside a sidewalk in Beijing, during the 19th Communist Party Congress on Oct 23, 2017.
People walk past a poster of Chinese President Xi Jinping beside a sidewalk in Beijing, during the 19th Communist Party Congress on Oct 23, 2017. PHOTO: AFP
HU CHUNHUA, 54, Guangdong party boss and an ally of former president Hu Jintao. CHEN MIN'ER, 57, Chongqing party boss and Xi protege. ZHAO LEJI, 60, head of the party's organisation department in charge of personnel matters. LI ZHANSHU, 67, head of t
(Clockwise from top left) LI ZHANSHU, 67, head of the Chinese Communist Party's general office. ZHAO LEJI, 60, head of the party's organisation department in charge of personnel matters. CHEN MIN'ER, 57, Chongqing party boss and Xi protege. HU CHUNHUA, 54, Guangdong party boss and an ally of former president Hu Jintao. PHOTOS: REUTERS, EPA-EFE, BLOOMBERG

All eyes on number of loyalists installed in top body and the form his ideology is adopted

Two crucial events in as many days will make clear the extent of President Xi Jinping's power, as the Chinese strongman formally begins his second five-year term in office.

Mr Xi's political ideology looks set to be written into the Chinese Communist Party's (CCP) Constitution at the close of the 19th Party Congress today, and a key measure of his clout is whether the formulation will bear his name.

Tomorrow's unveiling of the seven-member Politburo Standing Committee (PSC), China's apex decision-making body, could be another indication of his authority.

Apart from Mr Xi and Premier Li Keqiang, the other five are all new faces. The number of Xi loyalists among the five will give a good gauge of Mr Xi's ability to push through his agenda in his second term, according to analysts.

There has been enough evidence in recent days to suggest that the CCP will adopt an eponymous form of Mr Xi's political thought into its charter, an honour that puts him on a par with past strongmen Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping.

Senior officials such as top legislator Zhang Dejiang have praised Mr Xi's political thought, referring to it as "Xi Jinping thought on socialism with Chinese characteristics for a new era". The official Xinhua news agency also used the term repeatedly in its coverage of the congress.

  • POSSIBLE NEW PSC MEMBERS 

  • LI ZHANSHU, 67, head of the Chinese Communist Party's general office.

  • ZHAO LEJI, 60, head of the party's organisation department in charge of personnel matters.

  • CHEN MIN'ER, 57, Chongqing party boss and Xi protege.

  • HU CHUNHUA, 54, Guangdong party boss and an ally of former president Hu Jintao.

Today, some 2,300 delegates will adopt Mr Xi's work report, as well as a report by the party's top anti-graft body, the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection (CCDI).

Delegates will then elect about 350 full and alternate members to the Central Committee. Politburo and PSC members will be drawn from this pool. Delegates will also elect members to the CCDI, whose leader will become the third member of the new PSC.

Two Xi loyalists are leading contenders for the post: Mr Li Zhanshu, 67, head of the party's general office; and Mr Zhao Leji, 60, who heads the organisation department in charge of personnel matters.

The remaining PSC members will be confirmed tomorrow, as will the make-up of the Central Military Commission, which Mr Xi heads.

China watchers have outlined three likely scenarios here.

One scenario sees two potential successors joining the PSC, in the same way that Mr Xi and Mr Li did in 2007, to give them time to gain experience and prove their mettle.

They are Xi protege and Chong-qing party boss Chen Min'er, 57; and Guangdong party boss Hu Chunhua, 54, the only sixth-generation sitting Politburo member and an ally of former president Hu Jintao.

Some observers such as Mr Andrei Lungu, president of the Romanian Institute for the Study of the Asia-Pacific, see only Mr Chen making it to the PSC.

"(Xi's) plan seems to be to install Chen as China's next president - in a way that makes it clear he's beholden to Xi, and which allows Xi to maintain his influence," he said.

Others, such as eminent China watcher Li Cheng at the Brookings Institution, suggest that Mr Xi is likely to anoint Mr Hu, given the latter's extensive experience in places such as Tibet, Inner Mongolia and Guangdong. "Not only is Hu the front runner among his age cohort, but his ascension would be a significant step towards uniting the party leadership," wrote Mr Li.

An outside possibility is that neither man makes the PSC.

"Xi could persuade the party establishment that the previous model of 10 years (in power) for one generation, and five years to identify a successor is a little bit rigid and could potentially undermine the top leader's power," said Mr Li.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 24, 2017, with the headline 'Two crucial events set to reveal extent of Xi's power '. Print Edition | Subscribe