Struggles, Not Unity, Ahead of Party Congress

A close family friend of missing Chinese vice president Xi Jinping told The Sydney Morning Herald’s John Garnaut that China’s president-in-waiting is fine, but Ian Johnson and Jonathan Ansfield of The New York Times report that whenever he does resurface, Xi will face a political arena rife with factional jockeying ahead of the 18th Party Congress:

The most obvious sign of discord is that the dates for the congress have not been set. Most political experts here expected it to be held in mid-October, but without an official announcement, some are predicting it will be delayed.

“We hear that the congress will be held in late October or early November,” a security official from southern China said. “Currently we’re planning for that.”

One reason for the delay, the experts say, is what now appears to have been a contentious meeting in early August at the seaside resort of Beidaihe, China. According to the official script, this was to have been the final big meeting before the congress of leaders from the party’s various factions: the military, big state enterprises, descendants of revolutionary families, leaders of critical Communist Party organizations and others. The details of the congress were to be finalized at Beidaihe and the dates announced later in August.

Instead, according to information that is slowly leaking out, the Beidaihe meeting and other sessions beforehand in Beijing were especially tense. “The atmosphere was very bad, and the struggles were very intense,” said a political analyst with connections to the party’s nerve center, the General Office.

For The Diplomat, Colonel Brian Killough of The Council on Foreign Relations writes that the CCP’s handling of Xi’s absence may threaten its public legitimacy:

Is there a real concern over the public’s perception of his ability to rule if has a serious health issue?

Chinese leadership has been sensitive to this perception in the past. In 1966, Chairman Mao swam across the Yangtze River during a time of leadership uncertainty to prove his fitness to lead. At the very least, there seems to be a national “loss of face” for missing meetings with foreign dignitaries. At twelve days and counting since Xi Jinping’s last appearance, the world outside the Middle Kingdom may get some insight into the health of the communist regime by observing how the Chinese people’s confidence in party leadership is affected by the CCP’s handling of recent events and Xi Jinping’s disappearance. While there does not seem to be any danger of a popular uprising based on these current events, public confidence in national leadership has been negatively affected. For example, although he believed the absence to be “quite normal,” Professor Hu Xingdou from the Beijing Institute of Technology criticized the lack of transparency in a recent interview. On the internet, government censors have removed critical posts and questions within minutes and blocked searches for most common references to the stories and rumors surrounding the disappearance. Today, state media said Xi Jinping expressed condolences to the family of a senior CCP official who died last week. However, he has not made an appearance and the party has given no explanation for his absence. The demands for governmental transparency are growing and those demands, alone, are a small step in the process toward a more open and representative form of government for the Chinese people.


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