Xi laying groundwork for unprecedented 3rd term

Xinhua News Agency via AP
Chinese President Xi Jinping meets with military officers and troops stationed in northwestern China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region on July 15.

BEIJING — Chinese President Xi Jinping is stepping up efforts to secure an unprecedented third five-year term in office, according to multiple sources close to the Xi administration.

The Chinese Communist Party is expected to hold in mid-October or later its 20th national congress, at which major leadership changes are typically announced. As general secretary, Xi, 69, holds the party’s top position.

At a meeting of high-ranking officials held in Beijing on Tuesday and Wednesday, Xi reportedly said that “objectives and plans” for the party and state “for the next five years, or over an even longer term” will be presented at the upcoming congress. Some in the party interpreted this as Xi hinting at the possibility of him staying in power even after the third term and into a fourth beginning in 2027.

According to Chinese government sources, there have been indications that Xi himself has been heading the team drafting the political report he will deliver at the congress. The leadership successor conventionally spearheads the drafting of such a report for a congress when the leadership is set to be replaced. It seems there is a growing consensus within the party that Xi will keep his grip on power.

A customary meeting at which incumbent party leaders and party elders meet to exchange and coordinate opinions will soon be held in the resort area of Beidaihe in Hebei Province. The lineup of a third Xi administration is expected to be a major topic of discussion at this meeting. Security arrangements had been tightened around Beidaihe as of Wednesday. Some senior party officials reportedly began assembling in the area last week.

One leadership position in the spotlight will be the replacement of Premier Li Keqiang, who was to turn 67. Some names being bandied about include Wang Yang, 67, chairman of the National Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference; Vice Premier Han Zheng, 68; and Vice Premier Hu Chunhua, 59. Vice President Wang Qishan, who was to turn 74 this month, is expected to retire next year.

Xi has already met individually with senior party officials to glean their thoughts, and he reportedly showed some of them a tentative plan for the personnel lineup of his administration if he were to stay on for a third term.

After the administration led by Mao Zedong, who stayed in power as a dictator until his death, the party placed a two-term, 10-year limit on the presidency, and the customary retirement age for the party’s top leaders was set at 68. Former President Hu Jintao retired after two five-year terms. Xi, who has already turned 69, appears to have started the ball rolling toward the launch of a third administration, based on 2018 amendments to China’s constitution that, among other things, scrapped term limits.

The party chairman title is another issue under the microscope at the upcoming congress. The post was abolished as the party reflected on the years of Mao’s rule. There had been signs it could be revived, but it now appears resurrection of the post will be shelved for the time being.