Elite Politics, Party Affairs & Ideology
The Sudden End of Zero-Covid: An Investigation
Wednesday, March 1, 2023
China’s sudden exit from zero-Covid in early December surprised many observers. The most powerful motivations for this decision were the prohibitive costs to the economy inflicted by zero-Covid, the growing evidence of its ineffectiveness in face of a more infectious Covid variant, and the greatly diminished political incentive for maintaining zero-Covid after the 20th Party Congress. The party’s poor preparations for the exit were mainly due to the leadership’s overriding desire to stage a successful party congress. The politicization of the pandemic response continued even after the sudden end of zero-Covid as the official propaganda apparatus sought to reshape the narrative and the government refused to approve more advanced Western vaccines and to include an imported Pfizer anti-viral treatment in its health insurance program. The decisive end of zero-Covid and the subsequent pivot to the economy nevertheless reveal the party’s pragmatist side.
New Faces of Leaders, New Factional Dynamics: CCP Leadership Politics Following the 20th Party Congress
Thursday, December 1, 2022
The 20th National Congress, which met in October 2022, reorganized the central leadership of the Chinese Communist Party, with party chief Xi Jinping beginning his third term and overwhelmingly dominating the Politburo and its Standing Committee. As non-Xi factions have virtually disappeared from the top leadership, is CCP factional politics now over? Will CCP elites become “united as a piece of hard steel" with Xi in command? How will the dynamics of leadership politics in the years to follow likely unfold? This essay is an attempt to answer these questions by analyzing the career paths of the new members of the leadership and outlining the emerging landscape of new factions in the party. It argues that, in the years to come, factional competition will be inevitable due to significant political, administrative, and institutional factors within the dictatorial regime. Generational change, in terms of internal elite circulation and power succession, will also fuel power struggles among those sub-Xi factions that are now taking shape.
Policy Continuity with Rhetorical Escalation: Parsing Xi Jinping’s Political Report to the 20th Party Congress
Thursday, September 1, 2022
The political report Chinese leader Xi Jinping delivered to the 20th National Congress of the Communist Party of China represents a notable departure from his report to the 2017 19th Party Congress in its tone and depiction of China’s external environment. But in terms of policy, his report presents a policy agenda that summarizes existing policy. The focus on national security in the report largely formalizes recent policy initiatives rather than signaling a radical shift. When we compare the last three political reports, Hu Jintao’s report to the 18th Congress and Xi’s reports to the 19th and 20th congresses, Xi’s report to the 19th Congress was a radical departure from Hu’s report to the 18th Congress in both tone and substance, whereas his report to the 20th Congress took on a more combative tone than his report to the 19th Congress but it contained a similar policy agenda. This can be seen in the sections on national defense and Taiwan in the two reports. Taken together, Xi’s report to the 20th Party Congress signals a continuation of Xi’s current policy agenda in his third term.
Xi Jinping’s Political Agenda and Leadership: What do we know from his decade in power
Thursday, September 1, 2022
The political agenda of Chinese President Xi Jinping during his first decade in power consisted of three core components: establishing personal political dominance, revitalizing the Leninist party-state, and expanding Chinese power and influence globally. As he completes his first two terms and seeks a third term, he has made uneven progress in accomplishing his agenda. Due to his political skills and control of the regime’s instruments of coercion, Xi has firmly established his political authority and dominance. The revitalization of the Leninist party-state has been most successful in reinstituting tight social control. The reintroduction of ideological indoctrination and organizational discipline into the party may have produced a revival of political ritualism but questionable genuine ideological commitment and political loyalty. The reassertion of state control over the economy has just begun, and it is likely to entail immense costs. The assertive foreign policy has yielded mostly counterproductive outcomes as attempts to take advantage of the shift in the global balance of power has provoked a vigorous pushback by the U.S. and its allies.
The Ukrainian Challenge to China’s Leadership Politics: An Emerging Divergence in Foreign Policy and Its Impact on the 20th Party Congress
Wednesday, June 1, 2022
Despite China’s pro-Russia stance with respect to the invasion of Ukraine, divergent perspectives exist among Chinese policy elites toward the Ukraine war and China’s relations with Putin’s Russia. Such policy divergences have occurred mainly between China strongman Xi Jinping and some foreign-policy ruling elites who are politically connected with the top leaders who ruled China prior to Xi’s rise. As Xi steadily supports Putin with a strong commitment to the informal alliance between China and Russia, the dissenting voices among the policy elites have advocated distancing China from Russia’s military venture in Ukraine. Meanwhile, criticisms of Xi’s stance on the Ukraine war have also appeared in social media. Such criticisms highlight China’s national interest, which is inherently more skeptical of Russia, rather than endorse a close partnership. This essay analyzes Xi’s personal and political interests in maintaining a pro-Putin policy, the potential connection between the observed policy divergences and the elite power struggle ahead of China’s 20th Party Congress, and Xi’s attempts to turn his policy liability into an asset and thus gain leverage in the forthcoming CCP leadership reorganization.
Politics and Norms in Leadership Reorganization toward the 20th Party Congress:
Tuesday, March 1, 2022
This essay investigates CCP dynamics with respect to the leadership reorganization at the forthcoming 20th Party Congress by exploring the following puzzle: Why was there no elite attempt to oppose Xi Jinping’s constitutional amendment for removing term limits for the PRC President in 2018, but recently Xi’s actualization of a third term seems to be meeting powerful resistance from those same elites? In emphasizing the interactions between party norms and elite politics, we highlight the norms revealed in the recent reorganization of provincial leaderships that took place in the winter 2021, and we argue that these norms have intensified the institutional dilemmas created by Xi’s 2018 constitutional amendment, and, accordingly, they have fueled intra-elite power struggles. Such struggles will become decisive during the summer of 2022, and Xi’s crackdown on elite resistance will, at that time, enter a higher stage.
A Tale of Three Resolutions: A Close Reading of Xi Jinping’s Version of CCP History
Tuesday, March 1, 2022
The 6th plenum of the CCP Central Committee in November 2021 passed a landmark resolution on the party’s one hundred years of history. While the document briefly reviews the party’s 91 years of existence before the rise of Xi Jinping, it devotes more than half of its space to an affirmation of Xi’s policies during the last nine years. The timing of the resolution, its effusive praise of Xi’s record, and its elevation of Xi’s stature are intended to strengthen his case for extending his term in office. The resolution is thus more a work of political advocacy than of historical revisionism. The language of the resolution also provides important clues about Xi’s ideological beliefs and conception of his stature in the party. The sections in the resolution on foreign policy vigorously endorse Xi’s approach, and their defiant tone suggests a continuation of Xi’s current policy. However, the same evidence of Xi’s political dominance can also be interpreted as reflective of concerns within the party about the direction of the party under his leadership.
The Origins and Implications of Xi Jinping’s “Common Prosperity” Agenda
Wednesday, December 1, 2021
The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) formally unveiled a “common prosperity” agenda in August of this year. The concept is not new. Investigation into the origin of this idea shows that Xi Jinping has been consistently, albeit with irregular frequency, talking about “common prosperity” since assuming office in late 2012. He personally elevated this concept to place it on the party’s agenda at the fifth plenum of the Central Committee at the end of October 2020. Zhejiang, where he served as party chief from late 2002 to 2006, was selected by the Chinese government as a “demonstration zone” in May 2021. The official propaganda machine launched a campaign to promote “common prosperity” in mid-August 2021 after publication of the press release of the 10th meeting of the Central Finance Commission. An analysis of Xi’s speeches and official documents on “common prosperity” shows that while Xi may be the driving force behind this agenda, the CCP has yet to formulate specific and practical policies to fulfill it. The most challenging issues will likely be those related to the fiscal reforms needed to fund a significant expansion of social services and protection for underprivileged groups.
The Emergence of the Central Office of Foreign Affairs: From Leadership Politics to “Greater Diplomacy”
Wednesday, September 1, 2021
This essay examines how the Central Office of Foreign Affairs (COFA) has risen within the Chinese party-state system to become an institutional lynchpin overseeing all Chinese foreign conduct, and it takes this institution as a window to peer into Chinese leadership politics involving the party chief’s control of foreign affairs and the recent proposed program of “greater diplomacy.” It argues that both leadership politics and the program of “greater diplomacy” have driven the concentration of foreign-affairs power from the PRC state system to the Communist Party (i.e., the party chief) and, accordingly, to the COFA on behalf of the CCP to coordinate a transfinite diplomatic strategy that goes beyond Western-centric international norms to manage foreign relations.
The CCP’s Domestic Security Taskmaster: The Central Political and Legal Affairs Commission
Wednesday, September 1, 2021
The Central Political and Legal Affairs Commission of the Chinese Communist Party oversees the vast coercive apparatus of the party-state. Its main responsibilities include providing policy proposals on domestic security, supervising implementation of the party’s domestic security agenda, coordinating the actions of law enforcement and the judiciary, and ensuring the political loyalty of officials in law enforcement agencies. In the 1980s, the most open period in post-Mao China, the role and power of the commission were limited. But as the CCP leadership became more conservative in the post-Tiananmen period, the commission was granted more power to strengthen domestic security. It is now the CCP’s principal enforcer to maintain the supremacy of the party over the state’s coercive apparatus and an essential institution in organizing surveillance, supervising campaigns of repression, and providing for public safety.
The Myth of Authoritarian Superiority: China’s Response to Covid-19 Revisited
Tuesday, June 1, 2021
Is China’s authoritarian system superior to a liberal democracy in terms of crisis management? This question is addressed by looking at China’s pandemic response since December 2019. In due course, an authoritarian state can come forth with a robust ability to mobilize resources and bureaucratic capacity for high-priority action. However, the downside of China’s authoritarian model is equally glaring. Although the cover-up and inaction contributed to emergence of the crisis, China’s initial mishandling suggests that an authoritarian state is highly susceptible to any disruptions or shocks. To some extent, the policy blunders in late January 2020 intensified the crisis facing the Chinese leadership. The zero-infections policy introduced after April 2020 encourages an at-all-costs and by-all-means approach that is currently experiencing diminishing returns and hindering China’s mass vaccination efforts. Overall, the analysis does not support China’s authoritarian model as a viable alternative to liberal democracy.
Threading the Needle: Balancing Security and Development in the 14th Five-Year Plan
Tuesday, June 1, 2021
Due to the deterioration of China’s external environment in general, and its escalating tensions with the United States in particular, the Chinese government has readjusted its economic development strategy. As delineated in Beijing’s 14th Five-Year Plan, which was unveiled in mid-March of this year, China will invest in efforts designed to strengthen its economic security and better protect its economy from external economic threats. These initiatives include science and technology self-sufficiency, secure supply chains in its manufacturing economy, growth sustained by domestic demand, and food and energy security. Although these efforts seem attractive on paper, China will likely encounter immense challenges in trying to implement its new development strategy. Chinese leaders may have underestimated the potential costs of strengthening national security at the expense of global integration. Beijing’s disappointing records in executing industrial policy and rebalancing its economy also raise doubts whether it will be able to meet its ambitious goals.
Xi’s Anti-Corruption Campaign: An All-Purpose Governing Tool
Monday, March 1, 2021
Chinese leader Xi Jinping’s signature anti-corruption campaign has attracted attention because of its high-profile investigations and arrests, but it has also advanced government policies in areas beyond corruption control. This article discusses the campaign’s recent developments and how the party leadership has used it as an all-purpose tool for governing during Xi’s second term. Since the 19th Party Congress in 2017, the campaign has become more institutionalized and has brought down even more high-ranking officials. At the same time, the Xi administration has used anti-corruption work to support a wide range of recent policies and directives, such as the party’s anti-poverty and anti-crime initiatives. The administration’s sweeping inspections of party and state institutions have been integral to the anti-corruption campaign, but they have also aimed to improve general policy implementation, support organizational reforms, and ensure loyalty to Xi and the Chinese Communist Party. Governing through the campaign in this way has helped advance Xi’s political vision, in which a strong and disciplined party leads the country and penetrates every area of China’s state and society.
Continuous Purges: Xi’s Control of the Public Security Apparatus and the Changing Dynamics of CCP Elite Politics
Tuesday, December 1, 2020
This essay identifies three waves of purges in the Ministry of Public Security under the Xi Jinping leadership, and then focuses on the third wave, which, corresponding to similar measures beyond the public security system, featured the cleansing of those who rose to prominence due to their support of Xi’s earlier anti-corruption campaign. Such a development whereby Xi turns his sword against his previous political allies indicates that continuous purges are becoming a new political dynamic in CCP elite politics. The essay finds that Xi’s prolonged tenure in power and the governance challenges he confronts are the two leading factors that have helped to shape China’s current proto-Maoist power struggles and elite politics. According to this line of reasoning, Xi’s ongoing efforts to control the public security apparatus indicates that CCP elite politics is becoming increasingly dominated by internal repression and coercive means.
Investigation of a Death Long Feared: How China Decided to Impose its National Security Law in Hong Kong
Tuesday, September 1, 2020
China’s imposition of a national security law in Hong Kong has effectively ended the “one country, two systems” governance model in the former British colony. Available evidence suggests that this was one of the options for Beijing in order to quell the unrest in the city. Chinese leaders were reluctant to resort to this drastic measure until last year when protests against a controversial extradition law resulted in mass demonstrations and escalating violent confrontations between protesters and police. Our open-source research suggests that because the events in Hong Kong were deemed by Chinese leaders as touching the “bottom line” set by Xi Jinping in his speech commemorating the twentieth anniversary of Hong Kong’s reversion to Chinese rule on July 1, 2017, they decided to use this option. The decision to impose a national security law was likely made between late July and the end of August 2019 with little involvement of the SAR’s leadership.
The Saohei Campaign, Protection Umbrellas, and China’s Changing Political-Legal Apparatus
Sheena Chestnut Greitens
Tuesday, September 1, 2020
In January 2018 China began a three-year campaign, known as the saohei campaign, to crack down on “underworld forces.” A key emphasis of the campaign was its targeting of “protection umbrellas,” an effort to break the links between criminal organizations and their government and party protectors at the local levels. In the rhetoric of the campaign, “black and evil” underworld forces not only threatened the safety and finances of ordinary citizens but also infiltrated and weakened political authority, thereby damaging both social stability and the party’s ruling foundation. Saohei, therefore, is not only a cleansing of corruption at the grassroots levels but also a purification and re-strengthening of governance under party supervision. The campaign has resulted in the removal of a large number of personnel throughout the political-legal system, moving from initial removal of key leaders to lower levels of the system as the campaign has continued to unfold. It has also allowed local authorities to use the idea of “black and evil” to target specific local groups, from housing-demolition protestors to alleged “underworld forces linked to the Dalai Lama clique.” The saohei campaign will end early next year, but many of its key themes and foci will continue in the 2021 “education and rectification campaign” announced by Chen Yixin for the entire political-legal apparatus, suggesting that the party leadership perceives unfinished work within the political-legal apparatus. Xi Jinping, having already successfully replaced most of the leadership in the political-legal apparatus, now appears to be using saohei and its successor rectification campaign to push his authority down to lower levels of the political-legal system.
From the CCP Dilemma to the Xi Jinping Dilemma: The Chinese Regime’s Capacity for Governance
Sunday, March 1, 2020
This essay analyzes how the Fourth Plenary Session of the Nineteenth Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), held in October 2019, furthered the concentration of power in the hands of party chief Xi Jinping, a concentration of power epitomized by the personification of party leadership over the party-state system. This took place against the background of a strengthening of the regime’s capacity for governance, but the consequence has been an upgrading of the CCP’s governance dilemma, which features unbalanced strength to promote economic growth and political stability on the one hand and to deal with the social, environmental, and public costs of development on the other hand, and Xi Jinping’s governance dilemma, which involves overall control by the supreme leader as a result of the impotence of the regime and accordingly the institutional decay in present-day China. The COVID-19 crisis is the latest example of the overlapping of these two dilemmas.
Ideological Indoctrination Under Xi Jinping
Sunday, December 1, 2019
The CCP under Xi Jinping’s leadership has launched the most sustained and comprehensive program of ideological indoctrination in the post-Mao era. By issuing new rules and revising old ones on ideological education in the party, propaganda work, education, and patriotic education, the party apparently seeks to use ideological indoctrination to strengthen Xi’s personal authority, demand strict political loyalty from its officials and members, tighten control in the mass media and on college campuses, and mobilize nationalistic support from the public. Although the program is being implemented through administrative measures, its reliance on coercion and material incentives belie the challenge facing the party to carry out ideological indoctrination in a highly materialistic society. This program reflects the regime’s insecurity about the erosion of its members’ ideological commitment and political loyalty. The backward- looking nature of the party’s program of ideological indoctrination is symptomatic of its poverty of ideas, even as the party struggles to project a forward-looking vision. The outcome of this program is likely to be political ritualization and feigned loyalty that are more common in a regime in decay than in a regime undergoing reinvigoration.
Bureaucratic strategies of coping with strongman rule: How local officials survive in President Xi Jinping’s new order
Sunday, September 1, 2019
Chinese leader Xi Jinping has been attempting to transform the Chinese Communist Party into an ideologically committed, organizationally disciplined, and politically loyal regime. His efforts include enforcing strict discipline and curtailing the perks of officials. This attempt appears to be unpopular among the party’s rank and file and has encountered various forms of resistance. Resourceful local officials have attempted to protect their interests and resist the leadership’s efforts to strip them of the perks and benefits that until now they have taken for granted. Their passive resistance appears to be a serious obstacle to the realization of Xi’s ambitious vision. Ironically, many of Xi’s own policies, such as emphasizing ideological indoctrination and suppressing civil society, have made it more difficult to combat the subterfuge by local officials. The party’s top-down approach is unlikely to succeed in converting ideologically cynical CCP officials into true believers, while local officials have no feasible means of forcing the top leadership to change course. This political stalemate is likely to continue.
Rewriting the Rules of the Chinese Party-State: Xi’s Progress in Reinvigorating the CCP
Saturday, June 1, 2019
Since assuming power in late 2012 and especially since the conclusion of the Nineteenth Party Congress in October 2017, Chinese leader Xi Jinping has made significant progress in implementing a systematic program to rewrite the rules of the Chinese Communist Party. These changes are designed to augment Xi’s personal authority, centralize decision-making power, tighten the party’s organizational discipline and procedures, extend CCP control over state and society, and intensify ideological indoctrination. Even though Xi has achieved indisputable success in revising and promulgating nearly all important CCP rules, it remains unclear whether such changes in the rules have been fully accepted as legitimate and binding by the CCP’s rank-and-file. Nor should we take at face value as a settled reality the assertion of Xi’s supremacy in practically every revised or newly issued CCP rule book.
The King’s Men and Others: Emerging Political Elites under Xi Jinping
Saturday, June 1, 2019
Large-scale elite upward mobility has been taking place in Xi Jinping’s China. Who has attained critical positions under Xi’s leadership? How did they achieve such career advancements? Focusing on those elites who have emerged in recent years at or above the deputy provincial and vice-ministerial levels in the power hierarchy of the narrowly defined CCP and state administrative apparatuses, this article outlines seven groups that established close connections with Xi Jinping during the various stages of his life before rising to national power; it then analyzes how sub-mainstream and non-mainstream paths of elite advancements have also worked in a marginal sense due to the so-called “cascade impact” and the “bandwagon effect.”
A Tale of Three Speeches: How Xi’s Speech Marking the 40th Anniversary of Reform and Opening Differs from those of Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao
Friday, March 1, 2019
Xi Jinping’s speech marking the 40th anniversary of reform and opening on December 18, 2018 recapitulates the substantial ideological and policy changes he has initiated since coming to power in late 2012. A comparison of this speech with speeches by Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao on the 20th and 30th anniversary of reform and opening respectively reveals significant differences in terms of ideological rhetoric and substantive policy issues. Whereas the speeches by Jiang and Hu adhere to the basic ideological and policy guidelines established by Deng Xiaoping, Xi Jinping’s speech underscores his personal authority and political vision. Most significantly, Xi’s speech emphasizes the supremacy of Communist Party centralized and unified strongman rule and China’s bold and expansive role in international affairs. The uncompromising tone of his speech suggests that it is unlikely that Xi will make substantial changes to his domestic and foreign policies despite the strong headwinds both domestically and internationally.
Xi Jinping’s Dilemma: Back Down or Double Down?
Saturday, December 1, 2018
This year Chinese leader Xi Jinping encountered the most difficult test of his leadership since assuming office in late 2012. The U.S.-China trade war (and the escalating strategic competition between the two countries in particular) have exposed China’s structural vulnerabilities and raised questions about Xi’s responsibility for the rapid deterioration in Beijing’s ties with Washington. As economic woes mounted, elite discontent with Xi’s leadership appeared to be widespread, precipitating an effort by Xi and his loyalists during the summer to bolster his authority. But whatever incipient opposition to Xi existed, it appeared to be short-lived. Xi emerged from the critical summer retreat at Beidaihe in mid- August with no obvious diminution of his authority. Since then, he has intensified efforts to strengthen his power but there are no indications that he has made fundamental adjustments to his domestic and foreign policies.
A Setback or Boost for Xi Jinping’s Concentration of Power? Domination versus Resistance within the CCP Elite
Saturday, December 1, 2018
Xi Jinping’s concentration of power, which had already achieved remarkable success, was further endorsed and institutionalized during the October 2017 Nineteenth Party Congress and the March 2018 session of the National People’s Congress. In recent Chinese political developments, is it possible to detect elite resistance to Xi’s fast-growing power and authority? How are party-state cadres able to display such resistance? Furthermore, how does such resistance affect Xi’s power and governance? This article attempts to answer these questions by, first, looking at how Xi has promoted his concentration of power in the aftermath of the Nineteenth Party Congress; second, discussing four aspects of such elite resistance, and; third, analyzing how Xi has reacted under the new sociopolitical circumstances to elite resistance. It is argued that elite resistance does exist and recently it has been furthered by social and international factors. However, Xi has taken additional steps to strengthen his personal dictatorship over party-state elites. Such a struggle between the dictator and the bureaucrats will continue to shape the dynamics of China’s politics and policy.