China's regime trying to 'erase every trace' of protest says expert
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President Xi Jinping’s much anticipated reappointment for a third five-year term as head of the powerful Chinese Communist Party, while not unprecedented, will ensure the country’s hardline policies continue, offering little respite to the West.
But a raft of other key appointments will be just as crucial in determining future policies. These begin with the appointment of a new premier of the state council – informally referred to as Prime Minister – to replace Li Keqiang, who will be stepping down.
China’s economic stagnation might see the position go to Wang Yang, 67 – the most liberal Politburo member and a choice favoured by the West.
As former governor of Guangdong province, Wang was fated for his economic reforms and is thought to be keen to reopen Chinese markets to the West which Xi has closed.
Potentially, he may even find a way through China’s Africa problem, which has seen nations collectively sit on almost £100bn of debt repayments while some, like Kenya, threaten to push back on Beijing’s insistence to use Chinese labour for infrastructure projects.
However, even if Wang secures the position, moves by Xi to consolidate his powerbase have given him such a tight grip over economic management that even China’s second most senior politician holds little sway over real policy change, now.
Other key appointments include military leadership roles and this, experts say, will give key insight into the shape of China’s military ambitions over the next five years.
This is especially crucial because Beijing has indicated that its military will be “ready” to take Taiwan by force by 2027. As head of the Central Military Commission (CMC) which oversees the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) and all its branches, Xi has always taken control over the process.
Other than ensuring his generals are younger – the average age has already fallen from 62 to 58 – his main priority is to ensure he has a strong pool of ultra-loyalists, and has favoured officers who served under him as regional chairman in Fujian and Zhejiang provinces between 1985–2007.
Xi has appointed 37 generals since 2019, many of which hold positions as Politburo Commissars – those who ensure loyalty to CCP and to Xi personally. Militarily, he made his two most important appointments relatively recently.
Lin Xiangyan was promoted to commander of the Eastern Theatre Command – which includes Taiwan – in January and is likely to be given a role in CMC during next week’s conference.
And overall command of the Western Theatre – which covers India where, some experts fear, we should expect a clash next year – was given to Xi acolyte Wang Haijiang in August last year.
But both are army generals, and concern over the way Russia has conducted its ground offensive in Ukraine may well see non-army appointments made in other key positions within the CMC, as well as key changes in the heads of branches.
These include the PLA Strategic Support Force, PLAAF (air force) and PLA Rocket Force – which controls China’s arsenal of land-based ballistic conventional and nuclear missiles – Political Work Department, Mobilisation and Training directorates, as well as the Committee for Central Discipline and Inspections (which tackles corruption).
“Xi’s reappointment to a third term as president wouldn’t be unprecedented – it would simply go against the convention of his two predecessors,” said China expert Dean Cheng, formally off the US Heritage Foundation think tank.
“But such is his consolidation of power that, even should Wang be appointed premier because of his perceived and much-needed economic prowess, any hopes that he may re-inject more liberal policies are sadly misguided. The real clues are in the key appointments made next week, particularly military ones.
“For instance, Xi has been observing Russia’s disastrous ground offensive in Ukraine closely. It will interesting to see any promotion of non-ground force commanders for the eastern theatre, which would be tasked with tasing Taiwan after 2027 if he chooses a military option.”
Cheng added: “What Xi has been doing in effect, is to systematically undo all the reforms made by his predecessors Chen Yun and Deng Xiaoping. In his view, these liberal reforms represent China’s former economic weakness.
“While China has its economic problems today, the fact is that it will appear much stronger next week than members of the G20, when congregate in Bali in November.”
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