Loyalty Drive Continues Ahead of Leadership Shift

The start of 2016 has been marked by mounting calls for loyalty to the Chinese Communist Party and its “core leader,” Xi Jinping. Many viewers of this week’s CCTV Spring Festival Gala were disappointed to find it less Monkey King than Steamed Bun Emperor, as the state broadcaster emphatically threw its weight behind the campaign. At South China Morning Post, Cary Huang examines the drive as part of a forceful consolidation of power to help Xi drive forward policies and shape the composition of the next Politburo and Standing Committee. He begins by noting the elevation of Xi’s personal aides Li Zhanshu and Liu He to major diplomatic roles, sidestepping the established power structure.

The unusual move to grant enhanced powers to both Li and Liu suggests an important change in China’s dynastic-style of elite politics; the long-standing collective, consensus-driven form of leadership that has existed since the era of Deng Xiaoping (from 1978 until the late 1990s) is now giving way to a centralised system dominated by a strongman leader – Xi himself.

[…] Analysts believe the campaign plans to strengthen Xi’s hand over the next 12 months – a time of political manoeuvring before the semi- at next year’s 19th Party Congress when a large number of top officials are expected to retire.

[… Steve Tsang, professor of contemporary Chinese studies at Britain’s University of Nottingham] said there were two main dangers in Xi’s approach.

First, if Xi continued to focus on consolidating his power for too long, it could well end up becoming the goal itself, and mean he ended up failing to secure his other goals, which were meant to define his place in history.

Second, Xi’s unrelenting focus on consolidating his power would continue to antagonise many within the establishment. [Source]

A further danger, raised by Tsang and others, is that over-centralization of power could lead to serious policy errors in crucial areas like the economy and Taiwan relations.

At The Diplomat, U.N. political consultant Zhibo Qiu describes the broad-spectrum assertion of Xi’s authority, “accelerating [his] centralization of power over political, economic, military, educational and cultural policies.”

While the U.S. grapples with [Donald Trump’s] burst of “political incorrectness,” across the Pacific, China is moving to the opposite direction: a sustained campaign in favour of “political correctness,” China style. If you have followed China’s political news in the recent months, you may have noted a catchphrase appearing repeatedly in President ’s speeches and party documents: “political correctness” or “political awareness,” the expressions used in the context of everything from party discipline and leadership selection, to military reform, state-owned enterprise (SOE) reform, university , the media, and public participation.

[…] The ultimate audience for this political campaign is the general public. “Positive Energy” – values consistent with mainstream political thinking – campaigns have been launched on mainstream media and social networking websites in China. Xi has urged journalists, editors, opinion leaders, and other figures in the media and cultural industry to spread “positive energy” and good “Chinese voices” to domestic and international audiences. Meanwhile, in a visit to the office of People’s Liberation Army Daily, Xi reintroduced the concept of “politicians running newspapers“ and stressed the basic principal of the Party’s leadership on media outlets. [See CDT’s Word of the Week, “Monkey-Snake.”] This year’s CCTV Chinese New Year Gala ran for four and a half hours on the CCTV 1 evening news, with nationalist propaganda and Party’s doctrines dominating throughout the night. Aside from traditional media platforms, the Party is harnessing the power of social media and digital technology to engage young people. Instead of political jargon, videos and cartoons are used, featuring both pop and traditional cultural elements. From China’s 13th Five-Year Plan to Xi’s “Four representatives,” a series of videos with catchy songs and even rapping have spread on China’s social media to help the general public understand Party documents and discipline in a fun and interactive way. The videos are tailor-made for young mobile users, and can spread via social media such as Weibo and WeChat. [Source]

At The New York Times this week, Chris Buckley reports on a new Ministry of Education directive calling for comprehensive, Party-focused “patriotic education,” both for students within China and those studying abroad.

“Organically instill the patriotic spirit into all subjects, curriculums and standards for primary, secondary and higher education in morals, language, history, geography, sports, arts and so on,” says the document, which was approved in late January but publicized only on Tuesday by Xinhua, the state-run news agency.

The document demands that university and college students be instructed more thoroughly to “always follow the party” and be “clearly taught about the dangers of negativity about the history of the party, nation, revolution and reform and opening up, as well as of vilifying heroic figures.”

Already, students are coached that the has been the sole engine of progress in modern Chinese history, rescuing the country from humiliating subjugation to foreigners and restoring their nation to a position of respect and power on the global stage. Since students led the 1989 protests that occupied Tiananmen Square in Beijing, party leaders have made a priority of inoculating them against liberal values.

But the new document shows how President Xi Jinping is taking demands for party proselytizing even further than his predecessors did, including beyond China’s borders. The directive says that Chinese students studying abroad must also be made a focus of instruction in Mr. Xi’s “China Dream” of national revival. [Source]

The education ministry was previously at the center of a drive to banish “Western values” early last year.

Meanwhile, SCMP’s Daniel Ren describes the latest rhetorical attacks on a rival Party power base, the Communist Youth League, which has recently faced criticism for its members’ “aristocratic” pretensions.

Capitalnews, a WeChat account operated by Beijing Daily, the official newspaper of the party’s Beijing municipal committee, warned cadres with youth league backgrounds that they would face “rough weather” after several scandals compounded the leadership’s resentment over their “self-serving” attitude.

It is the second time in less than a week that the league, once the cradle for promising young cadres and future political high-fliers, has come in for public criticism. Releasing the results of a two-month inspection of the league late on Thursday, the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection accused many officials with league backgrounds as being overly bureaucratic and self-serving.

[…] The league, a power base for former president Hu Jintao, has been regarded as a springboard for top state leaders and ministry-level officials for the past decade. Premier Li Keqiang, Vice-President Li Yuanchao, and Guangdong party boss Hu Chunhua all rose through the youth league’s ranks and went on to higher office.

But the fall of Ling Jihua, Hu Jintao’s former top aide, in late 2014 was a watershed moment as the leadership under President Xi Jinping stepped up anti-corruption efforts to clean up the party. [Source]