China’s 19th Party Congress concluded with a unanimous vote to add President Xi Jinping’s name and ideology into its Communist Party constitution.
The enshrinement of thoughts elevates Xi, who took power in 2012, to the level of former leader Mao Zedong. It also formalizes his legacy.
Held in the Great Hall of the People on Tiananmen Square, the meeting that happens every five years wrapped up October 24 with the approval of adding the “Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era.”
The party also was reshuffled and one notable member, Wang Qishan, will not be on the new Politburo Standing Committee, China’s top cabinet. Wang, 69, helped Xi drive out corruption and strengthen discipline within the party. His absence is likely age related because most party members customarily retire by the time they are 69.
What’s so important about having a ‘Thought’?
The moment Xi Jinping had his thoughts formally enshrined, his power was cemented.
“It means Xi is effectively unassailable,” said Bill Bishop, the publisher of Sinocism newsletter, in an interview with The Guardian. “If you challenge Xi, you are challenging the party – and you never want to be against the party.”
When a president gets his thoughts enshrined, it will be studied by schoolchildren, college students and 90 million Communist Party members nationwide. His thoughts are to be seen as “guides to action,” not merely education.
Mao Zedong, who founded the People’s Republic of China in 1949, was the only leader to have his philosophy enshrined while alive.
Former leader Deng Xiaoping, who was responsible for China’s economic reforms in the 1980s, had his ‘Theory’ included only after his death in 1997. A theory is lower in hierarchy than a thought. Only these three leaders, out of the seven since 1949, have their philosophy and names added to the Communist Constitution.
Unlike his predecessors though, Xi has far more global clout.
What is ‘Xi Jinping Thought’?
Xi’s thoughts are ideals on how to govern the country. They consist of 14 main principles. Some of these include “harmonious living between man and nature,” and absolute ruling over the people’s army.
His Belt and Road initiative was included, which is a massive investment in infrastructure that links China to its neighbors.
Xi also emphasized on the importance of the “one country, two systems” framework, an explicit reference to Hong Kong and Taiwan, two regions which have grown in anti-Beijing sentiments over the years.
One other important principle is that the party is in control of every aspect of life in China, including the economy, the Internet, politics, culture and religion.
What does it mean for the world?
Xi aims to make China, the world’s second largest economy with 1.4 billion people, “center stage” in the world. In his three-hour opening speech, he reiterated that China is a “great power.”
The Economist recently described Xi as the “world’s most powerful man,” who has more influence than U.S. President Donald J. Trump.
Xi’s vision has expanded beyond the mainland. The construction and militarization of islands in the disputed South China Sea has already begun. China’s first overseas military base opened in Djibouti.
While the 64-year-old is starting his second five-year term, many suspect he will stay on after 2022 since he has not chosen an official heir. In not doing so, he’s parted from party traditions since 1992, which indicates his plan to stay on for a third-term.