It has been a political tradition for China’s ruling Communist Party to chart the country’s course through meetings that gather opinions and forge consensus. A good example of this came in 1978, when the Party launched its reform and opening-up programme: a turning point for the nation.
More recently, in October last year, the Party held an historic meeting which resulted in two important outcomes. The first was the elevation of Xi Jinping to the role of “core” leader. The second was the approval of two documents on discipline within the 18th Communist Party of China (CPC) Central Committee.
While Western media have focused on the first and interpreted it as a sign of Xi consolidating his power, these two outcomes are intrinsically related.
The term core leader was originally coined by Deng Xiaoping in 1989, when, referring to then Party chief Jiang Zemin, he said every leadership team must have a core or else the team would be weakened. So the designation of Xi as core leader means that rather than being considered as the first among equals, he is now to be regarded as preeminent.
However, the communiqué makes it clear that no organization or individual is above the system of collective leadership. Instead, the call for the Party to unite closely around Xi as the core is an important signal for CPC Central Committee members to follow Xi’s lead.
Xi has already signposted the destinations ahead in his “Four Comprehensives”, a list of goals which present his overarching political theory and political philosophy of governance which were first mooted in 2012. The previous three plenums of the Party focused on the first three of these goals — comprehensively building a moderately prosperous society, comprehensively deepening reform and comprehensively governing the nation according to law. This time the focus was on the fourth — comprehensively and strictly governing the CPC Central Committee.
The campaign for stricter governance within the Communist Party of China has been launched to strengthen discipline within the ruling Party, which over the years had become lax as the country pushed for rapid economic development.
The norms for political life in the Party were originally set out back in the 1980s when the country had just started its reform and opening-up. Together, the two new documents’ aim is to institutionalize the principle that officials dare not, cannot, and do not want to be corrupt. Therefore, the move to make Xi core leader is a sign of the Party leadership’s resolve to ensure that the Party is fit for purpose and able to meet the needs of the times.
Xi has already proven himself to be a strong leader not just at home but also on the global stage, where he has built the framework for China’s major-country relations and expanded cooperation with other major developing countries, effectively promoted fairer global governance and the strengthening of the architecture of global governance, and introduced new public goods and thinking.
His Belt and Road Initiative is already bearing fruits. The Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank and the BRICS New Development Bank, launched on Xi’s initiative, complement, rather than challenge, the roles of the International Monetary Fund and Asian Development Bank. And his leadership ensured a successful APEC meeting in Beijing in 2014, agreement on a climate treaty in Paris last year and the guiding of G20 leaders gathered in Hangzhou in September to focus on sustainable development to meet its responsibility to both the present and the future.
With Xi as statesman, China has not only attached ever greater importance to its obligations and responsibilities as a major country with regard to safeguarding public goods and as the voice of developing countries, but also in establishing a new discourse for the times, one in which cooperation for mutual benefits replaces the West’s zero-sum mentality.
As core leader, Xi will have more space and wherewithal to work with other countries to forge a community of shared destiny.