Xi’s firm grip on power foments discontent within Chinese Communist Party

Koki Kataoka / The Yomiuri Shimbun
From left, Wang Yang, chairman of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference National Committee, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang and President Xi Jinping are seen during the closing ceremony of the Chinese Communist Party’s National Congress at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on Saturday.

BEIJING — With the Chinese Communist Party’s new seven-member Politburo Standing Committee announced Sunday packed with President Xi Jinping’s close allies, dissatisfaction and concern within the party over the concentration of power in Xi appear to be bubbling under the surface.

The announcement Saturday to exclude Premier Li Keqiang, who was second to Xi, from the Central Committee, whose members are selected to make up the party’s top ruling body of the Politburo Standing Committee, laid bare the discord within the CCP.

During Saturday’s closing ceremony of the party’s National Congress, held every five years, at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, Li kept his documents on the table and often looked around the hall impassively. He rarely made eye contact with a person he was sitting alongside to whom he is not particularly close: Xi.

The 67-year-old premier rose from the Communist Youth League of China like Xi’s predecessor, former President Hu Jintao, 79. Li was said to have been Hu’s favorite to succeed him, but Xi was the one who won the party leadership race.

Xi, during his first term in power from 2012, established a series of party working groups to make policy decisions that bypassed the actual government, wresting authority over the economy and other issues from Li, who had become premier.

Recently, information was circulating in the party that Li had offered to step down from his post, citing poor health as the reason.

“Li seemed to have grown tired of having his hands tied and lacking authority,” a party source said. “Xi apparently consoled him and tried to have him stay on, but was unable to change Li’s mind.”

Wang Yang, the economy-savvy chairman of the National Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, was also removed from the Central Committee. Yang, 67, used to be a local official of the Communist Youth League and was considered to be a candidate to become premier.

Since Li and Wang were eligible to stay in the top ruling body based on the party’s norm for leaders to step down if they are 68 or older at the time of a CCP congress, their removals could be seen as the snubbing of cadres without close ties to Xi.

The age 68 retirement custom has lost substance with Xi, 69, staying in power.

Toward the end of the party congress, Xi called for a vote on a resolution to amend the CCP constitution to include expressions aimed at strengthening his authority. Those who did not agree with the resolution were asked to raise their hands. No one dared to openly oppose Xi, so the resolution was unanimously approved with Xi’s single utterance, “Adopted.”

Although the full text of the new CCP constitution has not been made public, it is believed to include a slogan that calls for the entire party to completely submit to Xi. Any opposition to Xi, who has gained overwhelming authority, could be seen as an act against the party.

Prior to the congress, there was reportedly no strong opposition among senior CCP officials and party elders to Xi’s continuation in office, as Xi has called for the strengthening of national power with an eye on long-term confrontations with the United States.

There is however a deep-rooted concern within the party over a return to the Maoist era in which Mao Zedong held firm to his dictatorial rule until his death.

Former President Jiang Zemin, 96, was absent from the party congress, but according to CCP sources, there is information that Jiang said the following to Xi prior to the congress: “You will remain in power because of the needs stemming from the party, the nation and the international situation, but the CCP does not belong to any individual.”