Mr. JAYADEVA RANADE  November 2016


                                                                                                                                           Dated: 31 October 2016   
                                                                by JAYADEVA  RANADE
After four days (October 24-27, 2016) of deliberations at the military-owned Jingxi Hotel in Beijing, 197 full members and 151 alternate members attending the Sixth Plenary session of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP)’s 18th Central Committee (CC) under the chairmanship of Chinese President Xi Jinping agreed that Xi Jinping would henceforth be designated the “core” (he xin) of the Party Centre, or fifth generation leadership. The decision, contained in the over 6000-word Plenum document, however, clearly seemed to hold back from granting Xi Jinping unfettered authority by equally carefully emphasising “collective leadership” and asserting that “no party organisation or individual should suppress or undermine intra-party democracy”.
The Plenum document clarified that in addition to the 197 members and 151 alternate members of the Central Committee, also present were members of the Central Discipline Inspection Commission (CDIC), relevant responsible comrades, some of the Party's 18 representatives of grassroots comrades, and experts and scholars. Interesting was the Plenum document’s tone, which continued the emphasis of the 18th Party Congress on the Party’s supremacy, Party discipline and stability and underlined the importance of the Four Basic Principles and Marxist ideology. The Sixth Plenum document issued on October 27, 2016, said “Comrade Xi Jinping as the core has taken the lead in setting an example, firmly promoting comprehensive and strict party governance…”. It “called on the comrades of the whole party to unite closely around the Party Central Committee with Comrade Xi Jinping as the core and … firmly establish the awareness of the political situation, the overall situation, the core consciousness and the awareness of the Party Central Committee”. Stressing the need for strict observance of Party discipline and norms, it used the term ‘strict’ at least 15 times. There was indication that the campaigns against corruption and rectification of the Party would continue and the need for ‘supervision’ was stressed and mentioned at least 40 times. 
Coined by Deng Xiaoping, author of China’s ‘Four Modernisations’, the term “core of the Party Centre” was at the time intended to reinforce the pre-eminent political authority of Jiang Zemin who had been brought in from Shanghai and appointed as Party General Secretary in the midst of the Tiananmen turmoil in June 1989. Deng Xiaoping had then described Mao Zedong as the “core” of the first generation of leaders, Deng Xiaoping himself as representing the “core” of the second and Jiang Zemin as the “core” of the third generation of leadership. Hu Jintao, in large part because of his differences with Jiang Zemin who was reluctant to yield authority even after retirement and exercised considerable influence till very recently, was not described as the “core” of the fourth generation of leaders. By ascribing the position of “core” of the fifth generation to Xi Jinping, the Sixth Plenum decision has now affirmed Xi Jinping’s decisive pre-eminent political status and placed him alongside Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping.    
The effort to make Xi Jinping the “core” of the fifth generation of leadership has been deliberate. According to Wu Zhong of Asia Times, this was first suggested by Politburo member Wang Huning at a high level Party meeting this January. Most significant, however, was the statement made in August 2016 by Li Zhanshu, Director of the CCP CC’s powerful General Office and Xi Jinping’s hand-picked confidante, who asked Party cadres to “staunchly … safeguard General Secretary Xi Jinping as the ‘core’”. 
This was followed by all five Commanders of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA)’s newly-created Military Zones pledging loyalty to Xi Jinping. At least 15 provincial Party Secretaries have also endorsed Xi Jinping as the “core” leader.  In fact, then Hubei Party Secretary 1956-born Li Hongzhong, at a meeting of the Hubei Province Party Standing Committee on January 15, 2016, asserted that "the Politburo and its Standing Committee are the core leaders [hexin] of the party, General Secretary Xi Jinping is the core leader of the party center. To proactively maintain the authority of the party center means maintaining the leading core of General Secretary Xi Jinping." Li Hongzhong was subsequently moved to the higher profile position of Party Secretary of Tianjin in September 2016.
 A propaganda effort to build Xi Jinping’s image as the “core” of the fifth generation was noticeable in the months preceding the Sixth Plenum with references in articles in China’s state-controlled official media. The People’s Tribune, which is affiliated to the official Party paper People’s Daily, on October 18 called for a “strongman” or “Great Leader”. The following day General Liu Yazhou, Political Commissar of the PLA’s National Defence University (NDU) and a ‘princeling’ close to Xi Jinping, wrote in the CCP CC Propaganda Department’s journal ‘Dangjian’ and asked for a “mature and strong core of the leadership”. The day the session concluded on October 27, there was a more direct commentary in the People’s Daily. It claimed that endorsing Xi Jinping as the “core of the party centre” embodied the common wish of “the party, the military, and all ethnic groups”.
The title of “core” of the leadership will give Xi Jinping greater political authority at a time when China is beset by various problems as well as a slowdown in economic growth, worker lay-offs and widespread growing popular protests. In the context of domestic politics, it affirms Xi Jinping’s standing within the CCP, diminishes challenges to his authority and will facilitate him over-ride objections from other factional groupings. As Xi Jinping’s acolytes have told Caijing magazine, Xi Jinping is ushering in a “new 30 years” which will put today’s China on the threshold of a third era comparable to those begun by Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping! Xi Jinping has already announced the deadlines for two of the biggest national endeavours in recent years namely, achieving ‘China’s Dream’ by the CCP’s centenary in 2021 and the geo-economic initiative of ‘One Belt, One Road’ (OBOR) by 2049 in time for the 100th anniversary of the People’s Republic of China! 
The Sixth Plenum decision will strengthen Xi Jinping’s efforts to rectify and reform the 88-million strong CCP where 1 million members have already been punished, and also push ahead with the campaign against corruption which has made him popular with the common man. In a manner, the 348 members of the Party Central Committee have accorded their approval to the tough policies being implemented by Xi Jinping since the 18th Congress in November 2012. Noteworthy in this context is the Plenum’s assertion “that the people of Hong Kong should not be allowed to stand up to the people”.
To that extent the Sixth Plenum could facilitate Xi Jinping’s attempts to induct cadres of his choice to the Central Committee (CC), Politburo (PB) and Politburo Standing Committee (PBSC) at the 19th Party Congress next October-November. Almost 90 vacancies are anticipated to arise in the Central Committee because of members reaching the retirement age, their dismissal on various charges of corruption or indiscipline, and death. Crucial are the 11 vacancies in the PB of which 5 are in the PBSC.
There are also inescapable foreign policy implications. The endorsement of Xi Jinping’s policies since the 18th Congress, and assertive statement regarding the calls for ‘independence’ in Hongkong, include China’s assertive foreign policy. China, it is assessed, will continue to stay focussed on establishing sovereignty over the 3 million square kilometres of the South China Sea that it claims. Neither is there likely to be any softening in its stance on reunification with Taiwan. Similarly, any change in China’s attitude towards India is very unlikely.
(The author is former Additional Secretary in the Cabinet Secretariat, Government of India and is presently President of the Centre for China Analysis and Strategy.)

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