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On the 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China

August 18, 2017

The functions and operation of the congress of the CPC

According to the provisions of the CPC constitution, the Party Congress, held every five years, is the highest authority of the Party and its tasks are to elect the highest leadership and determine major policies.

This is determined by China's one-party system and the Party’s dictatorship. "The Party leads everything: the Party, government, military, people, academia, east, west, north, and south," as Mao Zedong used to say, and as repeated by every one of his successors.

Although the Party constitution stipulates that the Party Congress is its supreme authority, it is just a rubber stamp. The reality is completely the opposite. A small group of higher-level leaders in the CPC plan and make decisions in secrecy, and then impose their will on the Party Congress. The specific procedure is: first, the highest-ranking Party leader puts forward his thinking; the Politburo Standing Committee members are consulted individually for their opinions; the Committee contemplates the ideas and makes proposals; during the Beidaihe meeting, views of the Party seniors are solicited; proposals are submitted to the Politburo for discussion; the proposals get passed in the Seventh Plenary Session; and, finally, the Party congress puts its stamp on them.

Latest developments in the 19th Party Congress

The Party congress has always been a battlefield of power and the fight is especially intense this year, surpassing that of the 18th Party congress. Since he came to power five years ago, President Xi Jinping has little to claim credit for, as the economy continues to deteriorate, social conflicts intensify, and high-handed control escalates. He has antagonized almost all social forces and become a loner. Xi’s anti-corruption campaign is the only highlight of his rule, but the selective targeting over the past five years also discredited the campaign, especially with Guo Wengui's revelations now undermining its moral legitimacy. Moreover, the families of Wang Qishan and Li Zhanshu, both Xi’s right-hand men, have been accused of corruption since the 18th Party Congress. Anti-corruption is Xi’s political lifeline. But he is now trapped. Stopping the anti-corruption campaign would doom his office, and, once ousted, he will be purged.

To this end, Xi Jinping has decided to go all out and break the unspoken rules within the Party by promoting “Xi Thought” and consolidating his dictatorship. In order to continue to cling to power after the 20th Congress, Xi made the following moves:

One, took down Sun Zhengcai, who was appointed as the sixth-generation CPC leader by both the Jiang Zemin faction and the Youth League faction. Sun was sacked because he got in Xi’s way and he offended Wang Qishan.

Two, convened a closed-door meeting at the Jingxi Hotel in Beijing for high-level Party officials. In the so-called “bare table” meeting, the atmosphere was tense, and audio recording was not allowed, not even pens or paper. More than 300 Party members sat and listened as Xi lectured. As disseminated later, he put forth the “four at-all-costs”:

  • protect the high-level leaders trapped in the middle of the storm at all costs;
  • purge and clean up the counterforces within the CPC at all costs;
  • deal with the external pressure before and after the 19th Party Congress at all costs; and
  • suppress the internal factors of instability at all costs.

Three, used the August 1 military parade mainly to intimidate the counterforces within the Party, but also build up the momentum for becoming the Party Chairman, with the soldiers answering “Hello, Chairman!” instead of the usual “Hello, Commander!”

Two things to watch out for during the 19th Party Congress: Will the position of Party Chairmen be established?  Will Wang Qishan remain in office?

There are two reasons why Xi Jinping wants to be the Party chairman: First, the importance and influence of a Chairman are different from those of a General Secretary. Even though Xi is the president of the country and the chairman of the Military Commission, he is just the General Secretary of the Party. As stipulated by the Party’s constitution, the General Secretary is the convener of the Politburo Standing Committee and, like any other member of the Standing Committee, holds one vote only. In contrast, the Party Chairman chairs the Politburo Standing Committee and, according to the rules of the Mao era, has veto power and the final say. Second, if he were to become chairman, he could continue to hold power beyond the 20th Party Congress by claiming that the position of Party Chairman is different from that of General Secretary, and, therefore, he is not subject to the limitation of serving only two terms.

Political situation in China after the 19th National Congress

Many signs show that although the Beidaihe meeting has concluded, the situation is still unclear, and whether Xi Jinping has gained an upper hand and realized his wishes still requires further observation. Currently, various pieces of information are sending conflicting messages, such as that relating to the promotion of “Xi Thought,” and a cult of personality, as well as that about the state media’s increasingly tepid promotion of Xi, and the news that Wang Qishan was absent from the public commemorations of two deceased scientists.

Anything can happen, as the opening of the 19th National Congress of the PRC is still two months away. If Xi Jinping ends up gaining the upper hand, prospects for China would look very bleak. What’s certain now is that Xi will be determined to take China backwards, into the abyss. A joke circulating online vividly describes the situation:

Someone is driving a six-decade old “Liberation” truck that’s falling apart. The driver hasn’t changed the engine or the brakes, just painted the truck red. He is driving it on the highway, while dreaming. And for God’s sake, the truck is on the wrong side of the highway and going downhill!

What is foreseeable is that, within the next five years, the political situation in China will go backwards on an enormous scale, thus bringing the country back into the Ice Age. The authorities will exert control in every aspect, including expression, culture, and society. To put it in another way, the authorities will maintain stability by muting, deafening, and blinding people and putting everyone “on the grid.” Moreover, the control will extend to the economic and finance sectors, and the authorities will operate a planned economy in disguise, by strengthening state-owned-enterprises and setting up Party organizations within private enterprises.

Looking at the CPC’s history, whether in the Mao or Deng era, economic problems have always followed a political left turn. Since the vigor of the Chinese economy comes from private enterprises, the economy will be devastated by control of the economy, in disguise or not. The Chinese economy is so integrated into the global economy, it is impossible to go back to the time when the country was cut off from the outside world.

In terms of the impact that the 19th Party Congress will have on the society, although Xi is in the position of power, he can hardly enjoy it, as he is actually sitting on a volcano, with dangers lurking on all sides. For the various forces that hope to change China, now is the darkest time before dawn, and it is going to get worse before it gets better. The contest between the CPC regime’s high-pressure stability maintenance and the resistance of civil society continues.

The whole society is disillusioned but also enraged by the authorities’ viciousness and shamelessness in causing the death of Liu Xiaobo in prison. The regime, under Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao, had more or less cared about face and thus allowed some space for civil society to grow. But Xi is butt-naked shameless—a swaggering thug. From this point forward, we can expect suppression to escalate and intensify, as the regime is determined to nip any resistance in the bud. Gao Zhisheng’s disappearance and the re-sentencing of Joshua Wong are but two current examples. At the same time, the sentiment of the Chinese society has changed dramatically since Liu Xiaobo’s death, and we could perhaps summarize it as: the hope of improvement is dead, and revolution is rising. This has become the consensus of many, and they are no longer afraid of persecution by the regime. All kinds of forces of resistance and struggle are everywhere—the people who went to observe Wu Gan’s trial are a good example.

What are the strategies that civil society forces should adopt? As people’s discontent simmers and approaches a boiling point, the tipping point will be when the economy hits bottom. When this happens, people who are at the bottom rungs of society will feel the biggest impact, and their discontent will intensify, outsizing what can be managed by “stability maintenance” as currently funded. As for the various forces that seek to promote social progress, they need to: wait for the right moment and keep a low profile. They should dive down to all levels of the society and merge with the public, to spread concepts of human rights, constitutionalism, democracy, and civil society; they should form a core team, strengthen their own capacity, and accumulate strength for social mobilization—so as to better prepare for the great transformation to come and fight for a brighter future for China. 

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