TIPP: President Xi, schooled by the oldest veteran

By TIPP EDITORIAL BOARD, TIPP Insights

China, or specifically, the Communist Party of China (CCP), is gearing up for the once-every-five-years national congress set to begin on October 16. The 20th National Congress was already in focus as President Xi is expected to seek an unprecedented third term in office.

But the past few weeks have intensified the focus on the country and the national congress in Beijing.

The Rumor Mill

President Xi made his first foreign visit since the pandemic to attend the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation Summit in Samarkhand, Uzbekistan. It was rumored that a coup was underway during his absence from the country. Further, speculation arose that his security guards placed him under house arrest on his return. President Xi’s absence from public events was seen as a sign that all was not as it should be.

Even as the world waited for events to unfold, no official government agency denied or responded to the rumors, which primarily appeared on social media. Mass flight cancellations from Beijing international airport and the President’s absence from high-profile meetings stoked the rumor mill. Though many other aspects of the ‘news’ trickling out could not be verified, many travel sites confirmed that thousand of flights from and to Beijing were grounded or canceled.

The Chinese state controls the media and, in turn, what and which version gets reported. The regime, especially the “core leader” Xi Jinping, does not tolerate criticism. A few months ago, the Communist party General Office issued a notice. It stipulated that retired elderly people should refrain from criticizing the current leadership. The ‘retired elderly’ referred to in the diktat are generally believed to be the party’s old guards. It was also made clear that those who violated the order would be punished.

Song Ping’s Message

The Chinese, party men and citizens alike, generally do not overstep the official line. Dissent is rarely voiced in public. Yet, the oldest-living retired official of the Communist Party, Song Ping, did the almost unthinkable.

The 105-year-old veteran of Chinese politics sent out a video message. In it, he stated that reform and opening-up policy “has been the only path to the development and progress of contemporary China and the only path to the realization of the Chinese dream.” The message is widely seen as a criticism of President Xi and his policies like “common prosperity” and “the prevention of the disorderly expansion of capital.”

Doing exactly what the government order prohibited him from doing, Ping’s message was seen as a first shot. President Xi’s power and desire for absolute control are well known. It is equally known, yet less stated, that there is opposition within the party.

Murmurs Of Dissent

Amending the constitution to do away with term limits on leadership in 2018, a deed led by President Xi himself, had raised many eyebrows. Many feel that the “core leader” is trying to establish his achievements as surpassing those of former leader Deng Xiaoping. It is also believed that after securing a third term, which many take as a given, the President will likely declare himself the nation’s leader for life.

The Chinese leader’s aggressive leadership style and provocative diplomacy have worried at least some in his party. President Xi’s policies like the zero-Covid and growth based on domestic demand have significantly slowed the country’s economy.

The message from Song Ping is believed to be backed up by former Chinese President Hu Jintao and former Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao. The three are respected veterans who still enjoy some clout with the party, despite the President’s attempts to silence criticism.

Despite the recent furor of rumors, President Xi’s third term seems almost inevitable. He put to rest speculation about his freedom and status by appearing on state television. His absence of the past few days may have been the President following the compulsory quarantine mandated for those returning from abroad.

But Comrade Song Ping’s message voices the concerns of those who are not entirely happy with the turn of events.

READ MORE BY TIPP INSIGHTS

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