Xi Jinping has secured near total control over China’s Communist Party but experts warn his unchecked power is a huge risk, with a debt-ridden economy and a US rivalry also presenting major challenges.
His reappointment as party leader is a watershed moment in China’s modern history, tilting decisively back towards one-man rule after decades of power-sharing among the elite.
Xi was again confirmed as party general secretary and military chief on Sunday at the conclusion of a twice-a-decade party congress in Beijing, sealing a third term at the helm of the world’s second-largest economy.
Party faithful also approved a sweeping reshuffle that stocked the top ruling body — the seven-member Politburo Standing Committee — with Xi’s allies.
The outcome capped 10 years in which Xi has accrued more power than any Chinese leader since Mao Zedong, and broke with the example set by his two predecessors who smoothly handed their authority to those next in line.
It has also sparked warnings that Xi’s increasingly unchecked power may trigger a succession crisis when his rule finally comes to an end.
“(Xi’s) reappointment today is the result of his concentration of extreme individual power,” said a senior Chinese political scholar who requested anonymity to avoid potential repercussions from the authorities.
The move was “catastrophically negative for the Chinese state”, harming the party’s resilience and heralding “decline and stagnation”, the scholar said, adding that it was “inevitable” that Xi would now seek to rule for life.
– Economic woes –
It is the economy that is likely to command Xi’s immediate focus as he embarks on his history-making third term.
In recent years, he has thrown his weight behind the development of a more consumption-driven economy — a policy known as “dual circulation” — and has sought to address China’s yawning wealth gap under the banner of “common prosperity”.
However, his signature zero-Covid strategy, with its snap lockdowns, mass testing and curbs on movement, has pummelled consumer sentiment and chipped away at growth.
“Consumption is unlikely to recover to pre-Covid level with the current scale of Covid control,” said Dan Wang, chief economist at Hang Seng Bank China.
She said the policy has “added to the woes” in the property sector, where a debt crisis has sparked developer defaults and sown fears of a looming financial crunch for local governments.
“The government will have to choose a new model to develop the housing sector while keeping the deleveraging requirement in place,” Wang said.
China this week delayed the release of its third-quarter economic growth figures, amid expectations that the country was on course for its weakest performance since the early days of the pandemic in 2020.
The country eked out just 0.4 percent growth in the second quarter, and analysts widely expect it to miss its annual growth target of 5.5 percent by a wide margin.
– Eye on Taiwan –