Factional Politics a Major Challenge to Xi’s Legacy

Next year’s 19th Party Congress is expected to see a major restructuring of top Party leadership, with five of seven members of the Politburo Standing Committee expected to be replaced, leaving only President and Premier Li Keqiang to remain on the country’s top political decision-making committee. The event is also widely expected to be used by Xi as a strategic opportunity to further consolidate his power—already highly-fortified by his ongoing crackdown on Party corruption—by promoting key allies, a speculation which a series of recent regional reappointments has lent credence to. At the South China Morning Post, Cary Huang reports on the factional political challenges facing Xi in the lead up to next yearHuang’s report also mentions the major regional, geo-political, and economic challenges facing Xi at this point in his tenure.

Zhang Lifan, a party historian formerly with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said Xi, 64, faced an undercurrent of strong resistance within the leadership and the party establishment after gaining little respect from across the political spectrum.

“He faces strong resistance within the establishment due to all his controversial policies and so many people are just waiting for him to make a mistake,” Zhang said.

Highlighting Xi’s controversial policies and his leftist political stance, Renmin University political scientist Zhang Ming said: “China’s political future has never been as uncertain as it is today as there is such a great mess within the party leadership.”

Tsang said that whether Xi would be able to rid the top echelon of his critics by the 19th congress remained to be seen. [Source]

The 2016 Party Congress will also be a showcase for Xi to unveil his political ambitions ahead of the decennial power succession expected to follow at the 20th Party Congress in 2022. While some have expressed suspicion that Xi could attempt to subvert that tradition, a strategically arranged Politburo could effectively preserve Xi’s political legacy when he steps down. Xi has taken significant recent steps toward marginalizing a powerful political clique known as the tuanpai or “League Faction” made up of influential alumni. (Former president Hu Jintao is a prominent tuanpai, and his former top aide was recently sentenced to life in prison on corruption charges; meanwhile, a series of Youth League reforms launched by Xi has potential to significantly weaken the powerful faction’s influence.) At Reuters, Benjamin Kang Lim and Ben Blanchard last week cited anonymous Party sources on Xi’s efforts to ensure that the League Faction has little presence in the central leadership after the 19th Party Congress:

“There is no way Xi will let the Youth League have a majority in the Standing Committee,” one of the sources told Reuters.

[…] If the three potential Youth League candidates [for Politburo Standing Committee] – Vice President Li Yuanchao (no relation to Premier Li), Vice Premier Wang Yang and Guangdong provincial party boss Hu Chunhua (no relation to former president Hu) – were elected at the Congress, the would have a majority on the body and that would be unacceptable to Xi, the sources said. All three are currently members of the Politburo.

These people said it wasn’t immediately clear whether Xi is planning any other moves against the Youth League faction. At least one of the faction’s candidates is expected to get elected whatever Xi’s efforts, the sources said.

Xi wants to promote those most loyal to him so that he can push through reforms to buoy the slowing economy and handpick a successor to ensure his legacy, they said.

Xi’s group is known as  the “Zhejiang Clique” after the eastern province of Zhejiang where be built support when he was governor and party boss from 2002-2007. He also has the support of the so-called “princelings”, or red aristocrats, because like him they had parents who were senior party, government or military officials. […] [Source]

See also the Financial Times’ Jamil Anderlini on how Xi’s leadership style—often compared to the heavy-handed, anti-foreign, and heavily ideological style of Mao Zedong—is fostering a neo-Maoist revival that could itself be a threat to the continuation of CCP rule in China.