China Politics Update (British Embassy, Beijing) – October 2017

China’s new leadership was unveiled on 25th October at the conclusion of the once-every-five-year Communist Party Congress, with Xi Jinping and Li Keqiang starting a second term in office. Five new members have joined Xi and Li in the Politburo Standing Committee (PBSC), which is the most important political body in China (see their biographies overleaf). These new members will soon be appointed (if not already) as the heads of the top legislature, the propaganda & ideology department and the anti-corruption body, followed by a wider shakeup of senior government officials (at the Government meetings in March 2018).

All of the seven PBSC members, including Xi and Li, came from an educational background of humanities or economics, whereas previously engineers dominated the elite politics. This may be due to an ever urgent need for the leadership to address domestic social issues (e.g., income inequality and insufficient social service), which Xi said has now become the biggest challenge threatening the Party’s ruling.

Xi has consolidated power, as most of the newly appointed Party officials to the Politburo are identifiably his allies. His name and ideology (coined as “Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era”) has been enshrined in the Party’s Constitution, which has placed his ideological contribution on the same level as Mao Zedong, the founding father of the People’s Republic of China. Xi kept to retirement norms but abandoned the convention of appointing his successor during the Party gathering, leaving doubt as to whether he will remain beyond 2022 to do a third term.

New policy measures have been introduced during the Congress, including setting up a central leading group on law based governance, establishing a national supervisory body over natural resources and piloting the merge of local government agencies to improve efficiency. At the same time, the main measures that have been put in place during Xi’s first term will continue, such as military reform, rule of law, anti corruption and environment protection. There was also a reassurance of economic “reform and opening up”, however the rhetoric was not new, and reform has been patchy so far.

Public opinion is split over Xi’s grand vision of turning China into ‘a modern and strong country’. Many genuinely believe that China will soon become the most powerful nation around the world, with their own livelihoods improved. Others have adopted a sarcastic tone tagging themselves as ‘disadvantaged groups’ (kunnan qunzhong) who suffer inequity and injustice – they feel that they have been left behind in the process of the nation’s ‘great rejuvenation’..

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