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Xi tightens grip on China

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Chinese President Xi Jinping raises his hand as he takes a vote at the closing session of the 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China at the Great Hall of the People, in Beijing, yesterday. Reuters

BEIJING (AFP) – Xi Jinping was elevated to the pantheon of China’s most powerful leaders yesterday as his name was enshrined in the Communist Party constitution alongside Chairman Mao.

The inclusion of Mr Xi’s eponymous guiding philosophy for the nation at the end of a week-long congress could lay the foundation for him to remain China’s paramount leader far beyond his upcoming second five-year term.

Communist China’s founder Mao Zedong, and the architect of its market reforms, Deng Xiaoping, are the only other Chinese leaders to have their names in the document – and only Mao was alive when his was included.

Mr Xi, 64, presided over the congress’ closing session where some 2,300 delegates approved the constitutional amendment to include “Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for
a New Era”.

The concept places a heavy emphasis on the party’s role in governing every aspect of the country from the economy to what people are writing on social media.

“We must work tirelessly and forge ahead on the journey of realising the rejuvenation of the Chinese nation,” Mr Xi, who is due to be reappointed as party chief today, told the congress in concluding remarks.

With his name in the constitution, Mr Xi will have the last word on all political matters. He could stay on as the nation’s top leader even if he gives up the title of party general secretary when his second term ends in 2022, analysts said.

Mr Xi’s predecessors Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao had their concepts included in the constitution, but without their names and only when they retired after two terms.

“China has a tradition of combining emperor and teacher, which means that the emperor is also the thought leader. Xi achieved it at the end of his first term. That’s rare in our history,” Chinese political scholar Hu Xingdou said.

Mr Xi also managed to get at least two of his programmes written into the constitution: an anti-corruption campaign that has brought down 1.5 million crooked officials since 2012 and the Belt and Road initiative, the massive global trade infrastructure project intended to increase China’s influence abroad.

The congress declared the Communist Party China’s “absolute leader”, a clear sign that it intends to further tighten its grip on the country.

“Those who approve, raise your hands,” Mr Xi said during the vote as a flurry of arms shot up in unison. When he asked if anyone was not in favour, shouts of “None!” echoed in the imposing Great Hall of
the People.

“Now our country is unified, cohesive, and moving up in the world,” northeast Jilin province delegate Li Hualiang said.

The congress also elected a new 204-member Central Committee, which included just 10 women. It will elect the party’s new ruling council today. Mr Xi is expected to secure a second five-year term as general secretary and could also consolidate his power by filling the standing committee with allies.

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