BEIJING – Leaders of China's ruling Communist Party on Thursday set the stage for President Xi Jinping to extend his rule next year, praising his role in the country's rise as an economic and strategic power and approving a political history that gives him status alongside the most important party figures.
Central Committee members declared Xi’s ideology the “essence of Chinese culture” as they wrapped up a leadership meeting. In unusually effusive language even for a Chinese leader, a party statement said it was “of decisive significance” for “the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation.”
Xi, who has amassed more personal authority than any leader since at least Deng Xiaoping in the 1980s, has widely been expected to pursue a third five-year term as party general secretary. That would break with a two-decade-old party tradition that would require the 68-year-old leader to step down next year.
The party leadership's resolution on its history is only the third since its founding 100 years ago, following one under Mao Zedong, the first leader of the Communist government, and another under Deng, who launched reforms that turned China into an economic powerhouse. The decision to issue one under Xi symbolically raises him to their status.
The party removed term limits on Xi’s post as president in 2018, indicating his intention to stay in power. Then, officials told reporters Xi might need more time to make sure economic and other reforms were carried out.
Xi, the son of one of Mao’s generals, faces no obvious rivals, but a bid to say in power has the potential to alienate younger party figures who might see their chances for promotion diminished.
Also, political scientists point to the experience of other countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America and warn that long periods of one-person rule lead to poor official decisions and economic performance.
Thursday's party statement emphasized its successes in overseeing China’s emergence as the world's second-biggest economy, glossing over deadly political violence in its early decades in power and growing complaints about human rights abuses.
The statement affirmed Beijing's handling of Hong Kong, where it is trying to crush pro-democracy activism, and relations with Taiwan. The party claims the island democracy is part of its territory and is trying to intimidate the Taiwanese public by sending growing numbers of fighter jets and bombers to fly near its coast.
The party “firmly implemented ‘patriots ruling Hong Kong’” and “resolutely opposed Taiwan separatists,” the statement said.
Xi has overseen an assertive foreign policy and expansion of the party’s military wing, the People’s Liberation Army. It has the world's second-largest military budget after the United States and is developing submarines, stealth aircraft and ballistic missiles that can carry nuclear warheads to extend China’s power beyond its shores.
On economic matters, the ruling party under Xi has pursued a sometimes contradictory strategy of promising to give market forces a dominant role while tightening state control over industry. Tech companies are under pressure to invest their own money to promote party development ambitions.
China was the first major economy to rebound from the coronavirus pandemic but in the longer term faces steadily declining growth and a shrinking workforce at a time when Chinese incomes still are below the world average.
Xi is leading a “Common Prosperity” initiative that calls for narrowing income and wealth gaps between China’s billionaire elite and the poor majority. Companies are under pressure to share their wealth with workers and the public by raising wages and paying for rural job creation and other development efforts.
The party has tightened control over society, suppressing independent religious groups and human rights activists.
More than 1 million members of mostly Muslim ethnic minority groups in the Xinjiang region in the northwest have been detained and subjected to political indoctrination. Government spokespeople reject reports of abuses including forced abortions and say detention camps are for job training and to combat extremism.
Xi has used his control of the party’s vast propaganda apparatus to promote his image.
State media associate him with national successes including fighting the coronavirus, China’s rise as a technology creator and last year’s successful lunar mission to bring back moon rocks.
The 1981 assessment under Deng distanced the party from the violent upheaval of the ultra-radical 1966-76 Cultural Revolution.
By contrast, Xi has promoted a positive image of the party's early decades in power and called for it to revive its “original mission” as China's leading economic, political and cultural force.
Thursday's statement cited Xi’s ideology initiative, “Xi Jinping Thought for a New Era of Socialism with Chinese Characteristics,” by its full name seven times and referred to the “New Era” 21 times.