“Core” Leader Xi Warns of Cliques, Conspiracies, Fraud

After the 6th Plenum of the 18th Party Congress last week, Xi Jinping was officially crowned “core” leader by the Party he commands—a move that welcomed a fresh round of speculation over the potential for success of Xi’s purported plans for next year’s 19th Party Congress. Following the meeting, internal Party releases appeared to signal that Xi’s long-running intra-Party anti-corruption drive would enter a new phase of intensity. As foreign media reported on the significance of Xi’s new title (and domestic media appeared ambivalent about following the CCP’s lead in formally using the name on their front pages), Chinese state media reported on new regulations aimed at rooting out corruption, dishonesty, and flattery; and Beijing’s “zero tolerance” policy for corruption. This week, state media is still at it, echoing Xi’s condemnation of “cliques,” “conspiracies,” and “fraud” in the high ranks of the Party. Reuters’ Michael Martina reports:

“Political life in the party has been good in general terms, but there are also prominent problems which remain in urgent need of addressing,” the official Xinhua news agency cited Xi as saying in a speech at the meeting.

These problems include a lack of faith in the party, lax discipline, fraud and corruption, “money worship”, nepotism, and a trade in official positions, Xi said.

“Especially an extremely small minority of people among high-level cadres have swelling political ambitions, crave power, pay lip service, form cliques and gangs, and seek power and position and other political conspiracies,” Xi said.

He compared China’s “political ecology” to environmental ecology, saying that once they are polluted “a great price must be paid to recover them”.

There has been repeated speculation at home and abroad – and sources with ties to the leadership have told Reuters – that President Xi’s crackdown is as much about Xi taking down his enemies as it is about cleaning up the party. But Xi has denied any form of power struggle. [Source]

At The New York Times, Chris Buckley reports on Xi’s warnings—both about endemic Party corruption and economic risk—as a sign that despite his official “core” status, he is highly nervous about realizing his political agenda, citing experts who doubt that Xi’s leadership style will soften as his power becomes greater:

“Maintaining a sense of peril is a part of the traditions of the Communist Party,” said Wang Wen, a professor at Renmin University in Beijing who has met Mr. Xi. “But his sense of peril goes deeper than recent leaders’.”

“He’s seen the Arab Spring and the crisis of power across the Middle East and northern Africa, and he’s discussed that several times, and he’s also seen the lessons from Soviet history,” Mr. Wang said. “Establishing him as the is to set the tune that the central leader must have authority.”

[…] He enjoys mastery over the elite, but he has expressed frustration about a lack of control at the grass roots. That paradoxical combination explains why his power can appear both commanding and brittle, even after four years as national leader. And it is likely to magnify his drive for control, even if he enters a second term as president in 2017 surrounded by officials he has handpicked, several experts said.

[…] “If his political stature becomes firmer, I think he’s even less likely to change,” Mr. Bao [T0ng] said. “I’m sure that he’ll keep going down the same road and won’t make a turn down another one.” [Source]

Buckley also noted that since last week, Xi has “moved quickly to keep positioning his allies for promotion into the party’s top ranks next year,” promoting key ally Cai Qi to acting mayor of Beijing. Cai then praised Xi as a brilliant leader and extolled the decision to establish his “core” status as the most important accomplishment at the 6th Plenum meeting. Xi’s leadership maneuvering ahead of the has fueled much speculation about his plans to skirt certain Party norms, and the CCP communique that last week appealed for the Party to “closely unite around the CCP Central Committee with Comrade Xi as its core” appeared to some commentators as further evidence of such a plan. Others, however, noted lingering uncertainty that the title signified any further consolidation of power for Xi. At Chatham House, for example, Kerry Brown warned against “leap[ing] to the conclusion that Xi is somehow a man on a mission to build up power only for himself. A ‘core’ is not something wholly self-sufficient and all-dominating. It is the heart of something larger.”

A post from the Chinese Politics From the Provinces blog notes the varying analysis of Xi’s appointment to “core” status as another illustration of “the deficiencies in analyzing China’s politics from afar […].” One sure conclusion from last week’s development, the blog continues, is that local Party leaders are now more certain about which higher-level official they should be listening to:

[…T]he title doesn’t mean that Xi will get everything he wants at next year’s 19th Party Congress (how anyone can possibly know that at this stage is baffling). This is a battle over policy agendas and party lines, not who’s seeking to screw-over whom.

What the designation does mean is that Xi needs lower-level cadres to recognize that it’s his programs—not anyone else’s, such as Premier Li Keqiang’s—that are to be studied and implemented, and the title of “core” gets him that. That was Central Party School senior researcher Deng Maosheng’s [邓茂生] clear message at the authoritative news conference yesterday: the title is really meant to help the current reforms because there’s too much lethargy or resistance locally [這對扭轉“上有政策、下有對策”的不良作風、對改革更加深化和順暢具有重要意義.]. A number of international media reports focused instead on the potential that Xi would stay beyond the usual two terms as Party secretary.

Yet the real takeaway in Deng’s statements wasn’t the absence of dissension in the upper echelons (debatable, and he must know that ) but ongoing problems in the bureaucracy and at lower levels in accepting reforms. Local officials, for their part, have privately indicated their distress at not knowing which line in Beijing is the one they should be subscribing to: Xi’s “clean-up and discipline” campaign, or Li’s focus on investment and innovation. From their perspective, they’d like some clarity. Making Xi “core” gets them that.  […] [Source]