By Cai Xia
The 20th National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is the most important political event in China in 2022. It has attracted considerable attention from the world. Will Xi Jinping be able to break the rules at the 20th Congress to renew his appointment to the top party, government and military post? What will happen to China’s politics, economy, society, diplomacy, and more as power is arranged, divided, or fought over at the 20th Congress? More importantly, if Xi Jinping continues in his position, where will he take China and what impact will he have on the world? This article will invite and publish a series of in-depth analysis articles on these important issues. It will solicit discussion and debate of these major issues from the public.
In 2018, Xi Jinping forcibly amended the Constitution with the intention of continuing his rule, and since then there has been invisible infighting within the CCP around Xi’s re-election. 2021 saw the introduction of the CCP’s “Third Historical Resolution,” indicating that Xi is not only implementing his re-election intentions step by step, but is also asserting his “Two Established” status in the name of the Party. These are attempts to silence further opposition to his re-election within the Party. The “lively discussions” at the Sixth Plenary Session conveyed the unsettling nature of the CCP’s internal struggle to the outside world. Since the Sixth Plenary, a series of dazzling events have taken place in China, and a series of unverified news releases by the media at home and abroad have reflected the “ongoing” internal strife in the CCP. The CCP is used to hiding everything behind a dark curtain, and most people do not know what is going on. But one thing is for certain, before the 20th CCP National Congress, Xi Jinping’s bid for re-election and the prevention of Xi’s re-election are the core issues of the CCP’s internal struggle.
According to an article by Dr. Lianchao Han, as long as Xi Jinping himself does not give up, his re-election at the 20th National Congress should be the most likely outcome, because no one can stop Xi’s term-renewal. According to normal institutionalized logical thinking, this should be the case. However, the author does not think so. The author thinks the CCP is full of uncertainties before the 20th National Congress, and anything is possible.
The reason why I disagree with Dr. Han’s judgment is that the CCP is not a modern political party, but a party with strong political overtones, or a mafia-style organization. It is just that this mafia organization uses the name “party,” so people tend to look at it through the lens of a political party.
Unfortunately, it is not a political party. The operating mechanism of the CCP is strongly characterized by gangsterism, especially since Xi Jinping came to power. He has destroyed all the major institutions within the CCP and, moreover, has caused the Party to lose what little progress it had made when Hu Yaobang was general secretary after learning from the lessons of the Mao era , and regressing back to a gangster organization. This is clearly demonstrated by Xi Jinping’s openly holding the Party’s more than 95 million members and cadres hostage in the name of the Party Central Committee.
There are many factors that affect and determine whether Xi Jinping will be re-elected. These include the situation within the CCP, China’s economic trends, China’s financial risks, the mainland’s social and livelihood conditions, the real effectiveness of the CCP’s pandemic prevention, the influence of the outside world including the Winter Olympics and the unprecedented international isolation that the CCP causes China. This article presents the perspective of sorting out the CCP’s internal struggles. I am interest in multiple perspective and would like to discuss with friends who are interested in observing and analyzing the dynamics of the CCP before the 20th Congress.
According to Lenin, the party in Leninism grows and strengthens by internal struggle and internal cleansing. One of Xi Jinping’s basic beliefs is “struggle.” The struggle between Xi’s re-election and the opposition to it is a struggle between forces of different dispositions within the CCP for the supreme power of the Communist Party, the government and the military, and it is a matter of life and death for Xi Jinping himself. It is as well for the different power cliques within the Communist Party, and for the future direction of China’s history. Xi’s constitutional amendment has in fact broken the rules set by Deng Xiaoping and other CCP patriarchs, making the struggle for power more intense, complex, brutal, and even bloody than ever before. Whatever happens within the CCP in the next 10 months will not be surprising. In other words, anything is possible before the 20th National Congress, and everything will be revealed when the dust settles at the 20th Congress.
- A) In recent months, a series of intricate and bizarre situations have emerged from the mainland political scene
In recent months, especially since November 2021, the CCP has been experiencing a chain of intricate and strange phenomena, which have aroused much discussion at home and abroad. This article first provides a brief overview:
1) The “Third Historical Resolution” is a political springboard for Xi’s re-election to the 20th National Congress. Although it had passed the Sixth Plenary Session, whether the Resolution really has “legitimacy” and “authoritativeness” remains to be seen. This can be perceived from the following evidence, such as the extreme indifference to the Resolution inside and outside the Party and the emergence of certain voices of doubt. I have written an article about these situations . The “lively discussions” during the Sixth Plenary clearly highlighted the divisions within the CCP and meant that Xi’s authority was challenged. Since taking power, Xi Jinping has continuously proposed politically correct standard slogans, such as the “Four Self-confidences”, “Four Awareness”, and “Two Safeguards.” Xi used these politically correct standard slogans as political boundaries to control the Party’s discourse, no deliberate criticisms nor any violations are allowed. That is, Xi’s authority could not be challenged. The “lively discussions” during the Sixth Plenary Session of the 19th CCP Central Committee clearly highlighted the divisions within the CCP, which in fact weakened and shook Xi Jinping’s authority.
2) The keynote of the Central Economic Work Conference held in early December 2021 was clearly different from the keynote of the Sixth Plenary Session of the CCP a month earlier. The media at home and abroad noticed that among the “Ten Insistences” of the “Third Historical Resolution,” insistence on reform-and-opening-up was missing. After the meeting, Xi Jinping emphasized the success running of the Winter Olympics and welcoming the 20th National Congress. However, the Central Economic Work Conference, chaired by Li Keqiang, affirmed in a high-profile manner that economic development is the core and persists in reform-and-opening-up. Many of the policy ideas put forward at the Central Economic Work Conference are transparently intended to focus on correcting the self-destructive economic practices of Xi Jinping’s decisions in recent years. The fact that the keynote of the two important meetings was different brought the previously hidden Xi-Li differences within the CCP into the open.
3) What is particularly hotly debated on the mainland and overseas is the apparent difference in content between the article by Qu Qingshan, director of the CCP’s Party History Research Office and a member of the CCP Central Committee, and the article by Jiang Jinquan, director of the CCP Central Policy Research Office and a member of the CCP Central Discipline Inspection Commission. An analytical commentary pointed out that Qu Qingshan’s article mentions Deng Xiaoping’s name nine times, while Jiang and Hu’s names are mentioned once each, while Jiang Jinquan’s article only mentions Xi Jinping and no one else’s name at all, as if Qu Qingshan implies anti-Xi sentiment. However, looking at the People’s Daily for the month before and after, Qu Qingshan and Jiang Jinquan’s articles were basically written and published in the People’s Daily in accordance with the CCP’s plan to publicize the “Third Historical Resolution.” Both Qu Qingshan’s article and Jiang Jinquan’s article are authoritative interpretations of the spirit of the CCP Central Committee’s resolution. In this respect, Qu Qingshan is not an organized anti-Xi act, and Jiang Jinquan is not tit-for-tat with Qu Qingshan. However, Qu Qingshan’s article has aroused a lot of “resonance” inside and outside the Party, which is, in a sense, a manifestation of the “heart of the Party” and “hearts of the public.”
4) With the change in keynote of the Central Economic Work Conference, the domestic economic community, the CCP and government officials have all made public statements about their pessimistic expectations for the future of the Chinese economy. For example, Li Daokui, in an economic speech, although speaking very mildly, unmistakably conveyed the signal that the economy is grim. Then former Finance Minister Lou Jiwei publicly accused the National Bureau of Statistics of falsifying figures. These analyses and comments not only do not fit with Xi’s “persistent struggle,” but also implicitly deny the economic achievements of Xi Jinping as boasted in the “Third Historical Resolution.”
5) Just as the Central Economic Work Conference ended and Qu Qingshan’s article was hotly debated overseas, The Wall Street Journal issued a lengthy report on Xi Jinping’s leadership style. The article reported on the discontent of top officials in the CCP system, some of whom, through interviews, bluntly criticized Xi Jinping’s abilities, mindset, character, and style. From the details reported in The Wall Street Journal, only those in the top CCP institutions who may have been in close contact with Xi, or who could directly see and hear Xi’s instructions and speeches, could have recounted those details in such meticulousness, and thus with a fairly high degree of authenticity and credibility. The report suggests that these officials in the system who have resentment toward Xi are not in the minority.
Since taking power, Xi Jinping has been imposing a heavy-handed terror on the Party, vigorously cracking down and removing dissidents, and incorporating “no deliberate criticism” into the Party’s disciplinary regulations in an effort to destroy all dissenting voices within it. Xi Jinping’s brutal purge within the Party has indeed stunned the vast majority of people in the CCP, and almost no public expression of criticism or dissatisfaction with Xi is heard. Especially in 2020, when Ren Zhiqiang was sentenced to 18 years in prison for “corruption” because of his harsh criticism of Xi. This further silenced the majority of people out of fear and there was dead silence inside the CCP. In such a climate of intra-Party terror, it is extraordinary that some people would dare to express their complaints and grievances against Xi and have them published by a prominent American newspaper.
6) On December 15, 2021, news suddenly broke out that Xi Jinping had “arrested” PLA General Liu Yazhou. Also arrested was Liu’s brother, a major general in the PLA’s General Staff Third Department. In the following days, news broke that Liu and his brother had been raided. This caused a huge shock at home and abroad. General Liu Yazhou is a second generation “Red princeling” and the son-in-law of former President Li Xiannian. This is a signal that Xi Jinping has issued his sternest warning yet to the princelings and the second generation of Reds that if they oppose Xi, Xi Jinping will come down equally hard on the princelings. Liu’s arrest provoked a strong reaction among the princelings and the second generation of Reds, stirring up more discontent among them.
7) The arrest of Liu Yazhou also caused a shock in the military. Xi Jinping has been selectively fighting corruption in the military in the past few years under the banner of anti-corruption and military reform to remove dissidents and promote cronies, thus the military generals are equally insecure, so it is hard to say whether the military sincerely supports Xi Jinping. One important sign has not yet received sufficient attention: China’s constitution stipulates that the Central Military Commission (CMC) implements the system of military chairmanship, and the CCP’s PLA Daily has been emphasizing since 2017 that the PLA resolutely implements the system of military chairmanship and follows the command of President Xi Jinping in all actions. But since the Sixth Plenary Session, the PLA Daily has not mentioned the system of responsibility of the CMC for some time. Even after the release of Jiang Jinquan’s article, the articles published by the PLA Daily still did not mention Xi Jinping once. It was only on January 1, 3 and 7, 2022, that the military newspaper mentioned “implementing the system of responsibility of the CMC” again. However, when mentioning the implementation of the system of responsibility of the CMC, the military newspaper did not print the usual standard political slogans: “all actions obey the command of Chairman Xi Jinping.” This means, in part, that the army may not be fully unified internally and that Xi is not yet in full control of the army.
8) On December 22, 2021, Professor Hu Wei, president of the Shanghai Public Policy Research Association, published a special article in the Shanghai Liberation Daily, “Consistently Adhering to the Third Plenary Session Line and the Road of Reform-and-Opening-Up,” in which Deng Xiaoping’s name was mentioned eight times, while Xi Jinping’s name appeared just once. The article was hailed as Huang Pu Ping’s re-emergence as a force for reform-and-opening-up. The article has been widely circulated in mainland WeChat social media, and many people on the mainland rejoiced at its publication, interpreting it as an attempt to “raise Deng to suppress Xi,” with the intention of blocking Xi’s political regression and preventing his re-election intentions.
9) Chen Quanguo, a member of the CCP Central Committee’s Politburo, was suddenly transferred out of Xinjiang and replaced by Ma Xingrui, another technocrat who once led China’s aerospace industry. There is speculation that this switch is setting up the future of these two officials. The first could be to arrange for Chen’s high promotion. Chen has been responsible for maintaining the totalitarian rule of Xi Jinping’s administration by implementing a series of harsh control measures in Tibet and Xinjiang, and now he is being transferred out of Xinjiang, possibly to join the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress and the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference in the future. The second is Ma Xingrui’s entry into the inner circle. According to the CCP’s practice, the person who serves as the secretary of the Party Committee of Xinjiang Autonomous Region should be a member of the Political Bureau of the CCP Central Committee.
However, the handover meeting between Chen Quanguo and Ma Xingrui looks like business as usual on the surface, but the details are actually quite delicate. First of all, the CCP is very concerned about the rank and procedure. When there is an announcement of the transfer of local senior officials, the Central Organization Department will send officials of the same rank to the scene to announce the fact, in order to show courtesy and recognition. It is reasonable to say that Chen is a high-ranking member of the Central Political Bureau, the same level should be the Minister of the Central Organization Department, who is a member of the Political Bureau to personally announce this change. However, the Central Organization Department only went to the Executive Vice Minister, whose position rank is lower than that of Chen Quanguo, and obviously did not give enough respect to Chen Quanguo. Secondly, when announcing the transfer of officials, one of the customary and indispensable procedures is for the Central Organization Department to evaluate the work of the transferred officials on behalf of the CCP Central Committee. However, at the handover meeting between Chen Quanguo and Ma Xingrui, the executive vice minister of the Central Organization Department did not make any comments on Chen Quanguo’s work. Instead, his successor, Ma Xingrui, and the chairman of the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region made brief and restrained positive comments.
Why did not the Central Organization Department follow its usual practice? Was it because it was not convenient to publicly praise Chen’s oppressive and terror rule of Xinjiang due to the high level of concern about human rights in the world, or was there something wrong with Chen himself that made it difficult to comment positively on him? Third, when the CCP announced Chen’s transfer, it only said “another appointment,” but now, more than a month later, there is no word on what Chen’s “new appointment” is, and even Chen himself is nowhere to be found. This may suggest that his future prospect is not promising.
There are two more unusual events.
10) On New Year’s Day 2022, Qu Qingshan published another article in the CCP’s Quyi magazine in which he affirmed Xi Jinping’s “achievements” since taking office, in line with the “Third Historical Resolution” of the CCP, proving that he was not deliberately anti-Xi. Subsequently, on January 12, 2022, Qu Qingshan published another article in the People’s Daily about studying the Third Historical Resolution of the CCP. This article high-profile propagated the experience of the “Ten Insistences” in the Third Historical Resolution, which the public knew this did not include the “insistence on reform-and-opening-up.” Compared with Qu Qingshan’s previous article, which he praised and recalled Deng Xiaoping’s reform-and-opening-up line in a high-profile manner, how can this article explain the obvious contradiction by ignoring the absence of “adhering to reform-and-opening-up” and fully affirming Xi’s summary of “Ten Insistences” historical experiences? In addition, Qu Qingshan published three articles in a row in just 40 days, which is rare among officials of the same or even lower rank than Qu, including Jiang Jinquan. Is there a deeper hidden agenda in the high frequency of Qu Qingshan’s articles and their contradictory inconsistencies?
11) On December 31, 2021, China’s National People’s Congress Chairman Li Zhanshu did not appear in the meeting of National Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference to welcome the New Year. On January 7, 2022, the Standing Committee of the Political Bureau of the CCP Central Committee held a meeting, and the CCTV news broadcast uncharacteristically showed only subtitles and not the scene of the meeting, which has attracted a lot of attention. On 11 and 14 January 2022, Li Zhanshu showed up publicly in important events, however, Li Zhanshu’s consecutive appearances did not completely dispel the doubts of the outside world. On the contrary, rumors about Li Zhanshu’s corruption and the alleged disclosure of “Chu Yang” news by Li’s daughter and son-in-law are spreading in various overseas media.
- B) Xi Jinping’s series of moves to ensure his re-election
Ensuring his re-election at the 20th National Assembly is the highest priority for Xi Jinping and his inner circle. The resistance to Xi’s re-election will come first and foremost from within the CCP, and only from forces within the Party that could somehow prevent his re-election. During and after the Sixth Plenum, Xi Jinping and his staff took a series of actions to remove obstacles to his re-election, which point to three directions: continuing to tighten control within the Party; maintaining heavy-handed surveillance of society; and continuing to lie and confuse the world abroad. All three of which work in tandem.
Within the Party: Xi Jinping is using both “soft and hard” tactics to strengthen his control over the Party. The “soft,” that is, in the name of deepening the Party’s history summary study and education propaganda, to further solidify Xi’s core position, requiring the entire Party to “increase historical confidence, enhance unity and solidarity, and strengthen the spirit of struggle,” to ensure a high degree of unity of the CCP. The “hard”, that is, the emphasis on struggle in the name of fighting against corruption and strict governance of the Party, foreshadows that Xi will increase his efforts to purge all officials he considers unreliable, which will further intensify the climate of terror within the CCP.
Let’s start with the “soft” tactic.
First, Xi Jinping has emphasized the unity and solidarity within the CCP. The “lively discussions” at the Sixth Plenary Session of the 19th CCP Central Committee were seen by Xi as a sign of disunity within the Party. In his second speech at the Sixth Plenary Session and at the “democratic life” meeting of the Central Political Bureau, Xi repeatedly emphasized that the unity and solidarity of the Party “cannot be ambiguous or shaken at any time or under any circumstances.” One of Xi’s meanings of “solidarity” is that “the Party as a whole should unswervingly align itself with the Party Central Committee and unite as a ‘piece of hard steel'” – that is, the Party as a whole must be united like a piece of iron. The second meaning of Xi Jinping’s “solidarity” is loyalty to the Party. This loyalty must be unconditional and without compromise, without playing small tricks or making small moves. This means that Xi Jinping approved Li Hongzhong’s “absolute loyalty” and was elevated by Xi to be a political requirement and political discipline for the entire Party at the Sixth Plenary Session. (As an aside: Does this imply that Li Hongzhong will be reappointed after the 20th National Congress? Into the Politburo Standing Committee?)
Secondly, the emphasis on “historical confidence” is a way to justify the statement that the “Two Establishments” are decisively significant. Since Xi Jinping came to power, in order to maintain his position of power, he has been advancing political slogans non-stop such as “four self-confidence,”, “four consciousnesses,” and “two safeguards” to strengthen his control over the Party. This time, the resolution of the Sixth Plenary Session of the CCP Central Committee put forward a new political slogan – “Two Establishments” – and emphasized the decisive significance of “Two Establishments.”
The People’s Daily report on the “democratic life” meeting of the Central Political Bureau stated: “Resolutely maintaining the core of the Party Central Committee and the core of the Party is the key to the Party’s consensus and decisive choice at major critical moments, and is an important guarantee of the Party’s unity, solidarity, victory and advancement … .” Additionally, it wrote: “Comrades of the Central Politburo must be deeply aware of and profoundly understand … ,” and also,”Comrades of the Central Politburo should take the lead in safeguarding the authority of the Party Central Committee and centralized and unified leadership … especially to prevent and overcome harmful tendencies.”
Wang Huning pointed out in the concluding speech of the special seminar for provincial departments at the Party School of the CCP Central Committee, that cadres at the provincial level should deepen their understanding of the decisive significance of the “Two Establishments.” At the Party-wide national conference on propaganda and ideology, Wang Huning stressed the importance of highlighting the propaganda in 2022 of the “Two Establishments” decisive significance. The Central Commission for Discipline Inspection has made “Two Establishments” the highest political principle and fundamental political responsibility. From another perspective, all this repeated emphasis on preserving Xi’s position of power may reveal the opposite: Xi’s position of power is not as secure as it is believed to be.
Again, the repeated emphasis on the “spirit of struggle.” Looking at Xi’s second speech at the Sixth Plenary Session, the spirit of struggle he refers to is, on the one hand, an emphasis on external struggle, as he said, “struggle creates history and struggle wins the future,” mainly for the world and international environment. On the other hand, it is the “great self-revolution” within the CCP. In a report on the “democratic life” meeting of the Central Political Bureau, the People’s Daily used these rare words: “It reflects the requirement of being strict and realistic, and reflects the atmosphere of frank and open-minded, and mutual alert. ” At a recent symposium for provincial ministerial classes, Xi Jinping again referred to “the knife’s edge faces inside” and “self-revolution,” saying, “No matter who violates the Party discipline and state law, Party discipline and state law will never be forgiven.” At the Sixth Plenary Session of the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection, Xi again used words such as these: “The courage to turn the knife blade inward, scrape the bones and remove poison; to fight corruption and punish evil with a thundering force; to strengthen political monitoring and follow the Party Central Committee at all times ….” Xi Jinping once again tightened the noose that kidnapped top Party officials: “adhere the ‘zero-tolerance’ attitude in governing and punishing corruption,” adhere to “seizing the critical minority,” and “leading from above”, and stressing that the anti-corruption campaign always on the go. Looking back on Xi’s selective anti-corruption efforts since he came to power, his cruelty in punishment, and his severe punishment of “dissident” forces within the Party (including Ren Zhiqiang’s 18-year sentence for speech crimes) is clear. Xi’s multiple speeches have undoubtedly threatening implications. This has further intensified the climate of fear and terror within the CCP.
The “hard” tactic to strengthen control within the Party is via anti-corruption.
It is an indisputable fact that corruption is widespread among CCP officials. Since the totalitarian system is not allowed to be scrutinized, corruption within the Party only has been intensifying since the late 1980s, even when the CCP has been fighting corruption for more than 40 years. Xi Jinping also does not allow any questions on the systemic roots of power corruption, and Xi’s selective anti-corruption efforts focus on punishing people and aiming to replace them with people he trusts to seize positions of power. In recent years, Xi has severely cracked down on people demanding the disclosure of officials’ assets, while on the other hand, he has made it a point to say that “anti-corruption is always on the go,” promoting zero tolerance for corruption with high-handed deterrence and severe punishment. The CCP Discipline Inspection Commission and the State Supervision Department are quick to “detain” officials, arrest and file cases, punish and demote them, and sentence them to “double expulsion,”and make the number of cases filed as a departmental “achievement.” The people of the mainland call it “fight flies by guarding the cesspit.” The CCP Discipline Inspection Commission announced that since the 18th National Congress to October 2021, the National Discipline Inspection and Supervision Agency filed 4,078,000 cases and 4,379,000 people were examined, of which 484 middle level cadres (above the level of vice provincial and vice minister) were examined and investigated, and a total of 3,998,000 people were punished with Party discipline . These huge figures indicate the severity of the purge within the Party on the one hand, and the severity of the corruption and decay of the entire cadres within the CCP on the other. Bizarrely, the detailed report of the above figures is no longer available on the CCP Discipline Inspection Commission website, where only the title is left, but the article is missing. Separately, according to the data released by the Ministry of Supervision and Inspection of the CCP Discipline Inspection Commission, from January to September 2021, the agency filed 470,000 cases and punished 414,000 people, including 22 provincial- and ministerial-level cadres and 2,058 department- and bureau-level cadres. 5,756 first-in-command officials above the county level were investigated from January to October 2021 . In 2021, a total of 25 cadres in the middle-level removed (should be a case investigation and legal punishment class), including 19 at the provincial and ministerial level, including 2 at the main ministerial level and 17 at the deputy ministerial level . China Rule of Law Daily reported that a total of 431 middle-level cadres were subject to disciplinary review in 2021 . The disciplinary review refers to the violation of the eight regulations as well as other Party practices and Party discipline, and the problem has not yet reached the point of corruption and crime.
According to the Xinhua article, in 2021, the national discipline inspection and supervision agency received 3.862 million letters and reports, filed 631,000 cases, and disciplined 627,000 people, including 36 provincial- and ministerial-level cadres and 3,024 department- and bureau-level cadres .
Just one month into 2022, on the one hand, the CCP Discipline Inspection Commission publicly reported that five vice provincial- and ministerial-level corrupt officials have been investigated and punished, which the media called “tiger-fighting” earlier and more frequently than in previous years. On the other hand, the five-episode television film “Zero Tolerance”, facilitated by the CCP Discipline Inspection Commission, was broadcast on CCTV, charging Sun Lijun, Wang Yufu, and five others on “TV confessions” to achieve the effect of deterring CCP officials. At the same time, Xi Jinping once again stressed at the 6th Plenary Session of the 19th Central Commission for Discipline Inspection that he would “fight against corruption and punish evil with thundering power and fight a good self-revolutionary offensive and protracted war.” This deliberately created and aggravated the fear of everyone in the middle and high ranks of the CCP in order to force them to submit to Xi’s authoritarian will.
To the mainland society.
To remove obstacles to his re-election, Xi Jinping has repeatedly emphasized political security and bottom-line thinking, focusing his “work” on removing “anti-Xi forces” from the Party on the one hand, and continuing to tighten his precautions against society on the other. This is intended to extinguish in a timely manner any possible incidents that could jeopardize Xi Jinping’s consolidation of power, especially with the Winter Olympics looming.
The main tactics of the mainland authorities are: 1) closely monitor and control internet speech. Instantly block any speech that may trigger public reaction, while giving warnings or punishments to posters; 2) mandatory closure of doors and roads and neighborhoods, turning people’s houses into temporary prisons; 3) implementation of the health code color-changing mechanism, turning people’s cell phones into digital trackers for spying people, monitoring and controlling everyone’s activities in real time; and 4) government spokespersons spread “lies” at pandemic conferences to hide the truth by all means. Despite these extreme measures, which have disrupted the normal order of societal life, and the public discontent caused by secondary human rights disasters, there seems to be no sign of the CCP government loosening its “zero COVID” control measures.
At the same time, the CCP continues its propaganda lies abroad in an attempt to manipulate public opinion. Many netizens already know a lot about the situation, so this will not be covered separately but will be mentioned in the analysis below.
- C) The curtain of the CCP’s internal strife has been raised, anything is possible in the future
Any political party will have the problem of power transition at the top of the party, but the way and path of power transition in different types of political parties are very different. In modern democratic countries, the transfer of power within political parties is basically a combination of open and fair competition and intra-party consultation in a peaceful and orderly manner. However, in the CPP, the transfer of power at the top has never been institutionalized and peaceful for 100 years. On the contrary, the process of power transfer is a non-institutionalized process of power politics by various forces within the Party under layers of dark curtains. This process is often full of shady schemes and even bloody violence. The 20th CCP Congress is bound to be the same.
First of all, Deng Xiaoping created the system of “inter-generational designation” of successors in order to break out of the vicious circle of bloodshed and cruelty and darkness, and to establish a mechanism for the peaceful transfer of supreme power, but in fact it was not possible.
Looking back at the history of the CCP, from the Long March to the Yan’an rectification, Mao Zedong went through nearly a decade of power struggles within the Party, knocking down Zhang Guotao and Wang Ming before formally ascending as the leader of the CCP. When Mao was alive, he also selected Liu Shaoqi and Lin Biao as his successors and even wrote them into the Party constitution, but later Mao himself launched the Cultural Revolution to torment and murder Liu Shaoqi and forced Lin Biao to flee and die. When Mao’s dead body was not yet cold, Hua Guofeng and Ye Jianying teamed up to stage a “palace coup” to dispose Jiang Qing’s Gang of Four. Within three years, Deng Xiaoping and Chen Yun forced Hua Guofeng to resign as party chairman and chairman of the military commission, after which Hua lived in seclusion until his death. After experiencing much brutal infighting within the CCP, although Deng essentially gained supreme power inside the CCP, he and his generation of surviving party elders knew that a power struggle for supreme power within the Party would lead to no peace for the CCP, and no peace for the country. Therefore, Deng Xiaoping sought to establish a model for the peaceful transfer of supreme power within the CCP while the CCP patriarchs were still alive, which was the inter-generational system of designating successors negotiated by Deng and Chen.
However, when the state system is a totalitarian system of one-party dictatorship, and the party leader holds the absolute power, it is almost “delusional” to achieve a peaceful transition of supreme power. In fact, around 2012, the CCP already staged a brutal infighting between Xi and Bo for the ultimate power, which resulted in Bo being sent to Qincheng prison for life. After Xi forced the amendment of the Constitution in 2018, the game of competition between Xi’s re-election and the prevention of Xi’s re-election within the CCP has already begun either implicitly or explicitly. In recent months, one can observe that this contest is gradually becoming white-hot.
The current manifestation of this fierce contest is that Xi has been sending nonstop signals of intra-party struggle. Of particular interest is Xi Jinping’s speech at the Sixth Plenary Session of the 19th Central Commission for Discipline Inspection (CCDI), in which he mentioned the “four heavy responsibilities and a long road,” using words such as “interest groups,” “acting as a gang,” “stealthy and mutated corruption,””escalation of corrupt practices,” “cleaning up systemic corruption and defuse potential risks.” These words indicate that the internal contest within the CCP is very intense. Xi Jinping is in a strong position of holding sole power, using the name “Party Central Committee” to command the whole Party to hold senior- and middle-level officials hostage according to his political needs. He is always ready to charge political crimes on the opposing forces within the Party. In the name of purging poison (typical of the language of the Cultural Revolution), Xi Jinping has been “investigating backwards for 20 years,” targeting the CCP leaders and their subordinates before Xi, including the elderly who have retired long ago and are in their dying years. Xi Jinping’s circle of partners investigates down to all levels of various organizations in every lineage and localities, which not only makes it difficult for senior Party officials to protect their lives, but also includes a considerable number of middle- and low-level officials in the CCP. On the one hand, such a tense political atmosphere within the Party further forces everyone from the top to the bottom to become paranoid. On the other hand, Xi’s unconstrained investigation will make a lot of enemies, Xi’s own safety factor is also significantly reduced. This vicious cycle of interaction loop within the CCP forces both sides to constantly upgrade their instruments of power grab, which may eventually come to the point of a firefight in which “you die and I live.”
Secondly, the intense power contest within the CCP is not directly manifested in the form of open competition among organizational factions, but rather mainly in the form of hidden voices, competition for public opinion and competition for hearts and minds.
When various overseas media analyze CCP infighting, they are accustomed to understand CCP infighting by comparing it with the contest of different factions within modern political parties. In fact, however, CCP infighting is not the same thing as the factional contests of Western political parties.
The democratic political systems of Western countries are the institutional basis for the legitimate existence of different factions within Western political parties. Within Western political parties, it is an inalienable right of citizens to express openly dissenting views and to resign from the party and switch parties. The factional struggles within Western political parties are mainly focused on differences in social policies and who represents the party to run for the head of the national government, and Western politicians do not suffer the risk to their lives by intervening in factional disputes within the party.
However, under the CCP’s one-party totalitarian system, there is no democracy in the country, and there is no democracy in the CCP party either. The head of the CCP not only controls the internal affairs of the Party, but also holds the life-or-death power, controlling the fate of party members, including life and death. Precisely because of this, the power grab between different forces within the Party can turn into a duel to the death under certain circumstances. Likewise, Xi fears that the forces within the Party that oppose him could collude and organize, so he uses various means to beat Party members and cadres into an isolated atomic state and never allows anyone to participate in any organized form of activity. His most severe charges against Sun Lijun and others were “non-organizational activities,” “groups and cronies,” and “forming gangs and cliques,” and these charges were often linked with accusations of being “conspirators, ambitious people, usurping the Party and seizing power.”
Therefore, the different factions within the CCP cannot exist legally, but are connected by personal relationships via covert contacts, and they are amorphous and unstable. Among the different factions at the top of the Party, only the party leader’s group in the name of the “Party Central Committee,” “orthodoxly” and legitimately occupy the official media to create public opinion, the rest of the opposition forces are in a weak position and cannot possibly voice different views publicly. This forces the rest of the Party to use the overseas media as a platform for dissenting voices within the Party, but at the same time, such expression is covert and tortuous. As for the majority of middle-level and grassroots party cadres in the CCP, they are the “silent majority” who dare not and will not get involved in the high-level factional contest.
Accordingly, the main clue for the outside world to observe changes in the CCP’s infighting and trends is the public opinion war inside and outside the mainland.
On the mainland, Xi Jinping, in the name of the Party Central Committee, has established an information firewall to block the truth. Moreover, the official media mainly releases and creates false news to deceive the mainland public. For example, a tight embargo on all kinds of news and discussions about the alleged rape incident between Peng Shuai and Zhang Gaoli. It is strictly forbidden to comment on Li Zhanshu, Peng Shuai, Zhang Gaoli, Li Zhanshu and other names set as sensitive words strictly forbidden to search engines. In addition, they secretly “arrested” the Liu Yazhou brothers and tried to keep the matter out of the public eye. They are even recklessly using the name of anti-corruption to crack down on their opponents in various fields, and to deter others and shake up their positions by imposing heavy sentences and severe penalties. They know that no one will dare, or can, publicly expose their lies. This puts Xi’s party rivals in a naturally vulnerable position, without the possibility of even fighting back.
Because other factions within the CCP are unable to raise their voices openly on the mainland, all sides in the infighting have made a greater effort to covertly use various means to expose the news overseas. Whenever there is intense internal strife, there are all kinds of mixed real and fake news and confusing claims circulating overseas, making it difficult to distinguish between truth and falsehood. For example, whether it is the Sun Lijun case, the Peng Shuai Zhang Gaoli case or the rumors about Li Zhanshu or Dong Hong case, all parties can be seen to use this to smear each other and frame others. At the same time, this kind of public opinion wrestling is increasingly directed at the higher levels of the CCP, with one side pointing at Meng Jianzhu, Wang Qishan, Zeng Qinghong, and even Jiang Zemin, and the other side pointing at Xi. We have previously talked about the CCP’s big foreign propaganda efforts to infiltrate and manipulate public opinion overseas, but now we can also see that the big foreign propaganda efforts reflect the voices of different forces within the CCP, sending out non-monotonous messages and opinions.
It is worth noting that one kind of public opinion has influence both on the mainland and overseas, namely the public opinion favoring Xi Jinping’s re-election. The trajectory of this public opinion strategy: “praise Xi – warn opponents – Xi’s re-election is certain.” Initially, Jiang Jinquan’s Dec. 13 article argued that Xi Jinping adheres to the Party’s overall leadership. The article wrote, “In the exploration of how to improve the Party’s leadership, there was once a deviation in the content and style of the Party’s leadership, the effects of which were not truly eliminated until after the 18th National Congress.” These lines implied a rejection of the politically enlightened practices of the Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao periods. Since then, there have been articles strongly praising Xi for “saving the day” and saving the Party at a critical moment. In early 2022, some overseas media embellished Xi’s emphasis on zero tolerance for corruption, “anti-corruption is always on the go,” the televised confession of Sun Lijun, the deferred death sentence of Dong Hong and Wang Yufu, etc., as a cloak of legitimacy for Xi’s continued purging of the Party, and as another serious signal from Xi to warn opposition forces. Recently, there has been a spate of articles suggesting that Xi has taken control of the CCP and that Xi is well on his way to re-election. Perhaps this is a deliberate release to help unravel anti-Xi forces and demoralize the anti-Xi camp.
Naturally, the anti-Xi forces have been raising their voices against Xi’s re-election in various ways.
The revelation of Xi’s human rights misdeeds since he came to power; making the Peng Shuai case a hot topic of overseas public opinion for several months, and the question “Where is Peng Shuai?” asked by reporters at the Winter Olympics press conference became a hot topic again; and pursuing the accountability of Xu Liyi, the former Zhengzhou municipal party secretary, was also seen as a move by anti-Xi forces to “cut the skirt,” to take down Xi’s trusted staff and step-wise weaken his power.
Similarly, a series of domestic and foreign affairs “flops” have come to light, and various governance failures are becoming hot topics in public opinion, which are not very conducive to Xi’s re-election. For example, the economy is weak while official figures remain glowing; mass unemployment of white-collar IT elites and migrant workers at the same time; a succession of real estate companies bursting into flames; the Internet economy being hit hard by Xi; the mainland’s stock market plunging; the fiscal depletion resulting in arbitrary taxes and levies; the ineffectiveness of pandemic prevention and extreme lockdown measures resulting in widespread public discontent; the serious decline in the birth rate; the extreme poverty of the mainland’s underclass and the luxury gift packs for the Winter Olympics; the embarrassing dilemma of Xi in the multi-national diplomatic boycott of the Winter Olympics; $500 million bribes to buy the heads of five Central Asian countries to attend the Winter Olympics; $140 – 200 billion in exchange for Putin’s attendance at the Winter Olympics and CCP siding with Russia in the confrontation with NATO over the invasion of Ukraine; the national soccer team’s disastrous defeat to Vietnam. Many other examples could be provide On January 31, George Soros gave a speech at the Hoover Institution, arguing that Xi Jinping could not be re-elected, and Soros’ shocking assertion ignited public commentaries.
Recently, a 40,000-word article “Objective Evaluation of Xi Jinping” has suddenly become a trending internet article of focus on the mainland and overseas. The second half of the article focuses on Xi Jinping’s three major crises: 1) the “tattered golden court dress” – the fictitious political achievements of the overlord; 2) the “collapsed anthill” – the political foundation of Xi Jinping’s power position has been emptied by himself; 3) “absolute disloyalty” – Xi Jinping is at odds with “the entire CCP bureaucracy;” Xi is both staffing cadres and constantly wary of cadres, and his relationship with his inner circles and those close him is tricky and fluid. This article is a comprehensive and detailed analysis of Xi’s personality traits, psychological state, cultural sophistication, and behavior style, and ends with Xi’s three major crises, which is obviously a strong “anti-Xi” article. Closer inspections of various public opinion contests within the CCP go from distanced confrontation to chaotic melee, more and more people are increasingly feeling the fierceness and nakedness of the infighting in the CCP.
Third, in the power struggle at the top of the CCP, to a certain extent, the “knife handle” and the “gun barrel” will win whichever side they support at the last moment.
In democratic countries, the military is the armed forces of the state and does not participate in domestic party political contests. In mainland China, the relationship between the CCP and the military (including the public security forces) has always been a key factor in the power game. The author opines that the CCP has always claimed to the outside that the Party controls the gun, but in reality, it is precisely the gun that commands the Party. Deng Xiaoping could do without the position of general secretary of the Party, but he would never give up his military post. From 1977 to March 1980, Deng Xiaoping as the Chief of General Staff of the PLA held military power in reality, and Hua Guofeng as the Party’s General Secretary, even if nominally the Chairman of the CCP Central Military Commission, could not have gotten his hands on the military (remember that at the time Hua Guofeng stepped down, one of the problems conveyed to the Party members about Hua Guofeng was that Hua had stopped by to review the military in the Northeast when he returned from a foreign trip).
Thereafter, Deng Xiaoping was both Chairman of the CCP Central Military Commission and Chairman of the Central Military Commission of the PRC, while the General Secretary of the CCP Central Committee could only act as Vice Chairman of the Central Military Commission. After the 13th Congress of the CCP, Deng Xiaoping no longer held any leadership position in the CCP, but always occupied the power of the Chairman of the Military Commission without letting go. In the Tiananmen Incident, even though Zhao Ziyang, as General Secretary of the CCP Central Committee, objected to the mobilization of the army into the city, Deng Xiaoping commanded the army to shoot, and charged Zhao Ziyang with splitting the Party and put him under house arrest.
Deng Xiaoping set the precedent that the head of the Party could retire but continued to hold military command. Thus, it became an unwritten rule within the Party, followed by Jiang Zemin, that a party member could continue to hold the party’s military command. The CCP army generals understand the special status and role of the army in the CCP state and have a strong sense of involvement in the power struggle within the Party.
Xi Jinping knows deeply that the CCP cannot consolidate its dominant ruling position without the gun, the knife, the pen, and the money bag, and that he needs to have absolute control over these “four tools” if he wants to secure his position of power. After the 19th CCP National Congress, Xi launched a new era of “Yan’an Rectification,” removing oppositions inside the CCP Central Committee of Political and Legal Affairs, taking down four vice ministers of the Ministry of Public Security and a number of senior officials of provincial-level public security departments and bureaus. However, Xi is not at ease with the “knife handler.” In the first few years, Xi repeatedly emphasized “turning the knife inward” to purge Zhou Yongkang’s poisonous influence, and in 2020, after taking down Sun Lijun, he re-emphasized “purging Sun Lijun’s poisonous influence” and further increasing his efforts to purge the public security and political discipline departments. As a result, Political and Legal Affairs cadres and Public Security officials are under great pressure and have no peace of mind. On the one hand, the economic and social trends in the mainland are not good, the political and public security officers deal with contingency prevention, maintain the ruling order, and are in the vortex of conflicts without relief. On the other hand, all layers inside the Political and Legal Affairs agency have been “investigated backwards for twenty years” to purge the poison, which makes almost all middle and senior officials in danger of being “retained for investigation” or “cooperating with the investigation” at any time. Consequently, none of them are secure.
Similarly, the dependability of the military is a major concern for Xi. In 2016, he “demolished temples and moved bodhisattvas” in the name of military reform. “Demolishing temples” – abolishing the original military establishment; “moving bodhisattvas” – when the temples are demolished, bodhisattvas naturally were left without a seat. “Temple demolition” successfully took away the power of a group of military generals for “legitimate reasons,” relieving Xi Jinping of a lot of pressure. Then, Xi continued to purge Jiang Zemin’s influence from the military in the name of anti-corruption. According to undisclosed sources, nearly 200 military leaders above the rank of major general have been purged over the past few years.
Despite this, Xi continues to distrust the military but nevertheless has to rely on it. To increase his own sense of security, he has broken the basic rules for promoting generals in the military, destroying the relative stability required within the military, creating a hierarchical relationship in the military where soldiers do not know their generals and generals do not know their soldiers. This destroys the sense of trust and emotional connection in the military hierarchy. Such practices make the army unable to fight battles, but definitely prevent mutiny in the army. Xi Jinping’s main approaches to controlling the military as follows:
1) Quickly promote people he considers dependable to the highest ranks of the military. Four of the seven generals who were recently awarded on January 21, 2022, were quickly promoted in a short period of time. Liu Qingsong and Qin Shutong were promoted to lieutenant general in June 2019 and to general in January 2022, from lieutenant general to general in just 2.5 years; Qin Huazhi was promoted to lieutenant general in December 2019 and general in January 2022, from lieutenant general to general in just 2 years and 1 month; Wu Yanan was promoted to lieutenant general in April 2020 and general in January 2022, from lieutenant general to general in just 1 year and 7 months.
2) Break the normal practice of ranking ceremony. It is customary for the army to hold a ranking ceremony for the promotion of generals once a year, and most of the time is placed on the eve of the CCP’s Army Day on August 1. What is unusual since 2021 is that from July, September to January 2021, Xi Jinping promoted a total of 16 generals three times within six months, completely breaking the rules of timing for the promotion of military generals to that rank.
3) Frequent changes in the positions of high-ranking military generals. Xi Jinping has frequently moved senior military generals, for example, the Western Theater Zone has changed its commander four times in less than a year; the Central Security Service has also changed its director four times; more prominently, from December 2020 to July 2021, 9 of the 10 top ranking officers of the CCP’s Armed Police Force were changed in seven months .
4) The death of a senior military general and the mysterious and perverse handling of the funeral. General Zhang Xudong, former commander general of the Western Theater Zone, died at his home in Beijing on Oct. 1, 2021, at the age of merely 58. For the death of such a highest-ranking military general, the CCP kept the death secret, rather the family handled the funeral themselves, and only after the cremation of his body on October 7 did the military gradually reveal the news, and only 21 days after Zhang Xudong’s death did the government announce his death due to illness.
Xi’s anti-corruptive purge of the CCP military, his unconventional promotion of generals, and the delayed announcement of the death of a high-ranking general all reflect his carrot-and-stick approach to gaining complete control of the military. However, the military itself not necessarily react as Xi would have wished. Please note point #7 cited by the author in the first part of this article, which talks about some subtle messages revealed by the wording changes in the military’s recently published articles.
To sum up, I believe that Xi Jinping has basically abolished all the major rules within the CCP. According to the logic of the institutional norms and the formal organizational procedures within the CCP, it is impossible for anyone to stop Xi Jinping from being re-elected, and no one has the guts to step in and stop Xi Jinping from being re-elected.
Under the current circumstances, no individual in the CCP, not even a high-ranking official, can stand up to Xi Jinping’s clique, which has seized and is acting the name of the Party Central Committee. Most of them will put their own safety first and refrain from voicing their opposition in the face of oppressive terror. This is true even for high-ranking officials of the “gun barrel” and “knife handle” agencies.
However, the extreme measures Xi has taken to enforce “zero Covid” in fighting the pandemic have shown people his extreme disregard for human lives and human rights, and his character traits that he will not hesitate to use any means or pay any price, even regardless of the consequences, to achieve his goals. There are reasons to believe that Xi Jinping will not hesitate to order many replacements and severe punishments in the Party and military in order to ensure his re-election at the 20th Congress. In the coming months, Xi will have further purges and will not hesitate to make big moves. This actually pushes top Party officials and vested interests to a point where they have no way out and their lives are in danger.
It is important to note that the logic of intra-party fighting in the CCP is “winner-take-all.” The fraction that is victorious is the side that holds the truth, and the side that loses becomes prisoners. The winning side often takes the opportunity to pursue and eliminate the subordinates of the defeated side; many middle and lower-level officials working in the high-ranking agencies of the CCP have a hard time escaping this calamity, and some would have their fate altered completely. This tragic and desperate end to the internal strife within the Party also made infighting more brutal.
Moreover, whenever there is intense infighting at the top of the CCP, all fractions will blackmail party cadres to take sides and make political statements. There is a customary expression within the CCP called “standing in line” – “which side to stand?” In recent months, Xi Jinping has increasingly emphasized “loyalty,” “standing in line,” thus forcing Party officials to take a political stance. However, for CCP officials, “standing in line” cannot be the wrong line, as the wrong line can lead to big trouble or even the death sentence. Because of the brutality and bloodiness of the Party’s infighting, all high-level officials understand the unspoken rule: it is not a matter of right or wrong, but only a matter of taking sides. When the top level of the CCP’s fierce infighting has not revealed winners and losers, the vast majority of Party officials, including most ministers and governors, stay silent, “lying flat” and waiting for the results. Waiting for the fight at the highest level to score a winner, then numerous lower-ranked officials express political endorsement of the winning side. This was exactly the case during the June 4 incident in 1989.
Because of this, once the top level of the CCP enters into a fierce power struggle, it poses a great threat to everyone.
When everyone feels that their lives are at stake and is in imminent danger, and that there is no standard path out of the disaster and bad fate, maybe it is possible that “what goes around comes around.” Perhaps in unpredicted moments, some unexpected events cause a momentary loss of control, thus provides the forces opposing Xi’s re-election an opportunity, and then there might be a major reversal of the situation. It is hard to say that such a big reversal will not be bloody. This is why this article does not agree with the statement that “Xi will be re-elected for certain as long as he does not give up.“ The conclusion of this article is that anything is possible, and there is only one predictable fundamental: the infighting is sure to be extremely bloody and brutal.
In summary, before the 20th National Congress, the core issue of the CCP infighting is the contest between Xi Jinping’s re-election and the prevention of Xi’s re-election. If Xi continues his path, China’s economy will collapse, society will be in chaos, the CCP will not be able to continue to rule, and the lives of top CCP officials will also be in danger. When things come to a point where “one step forward may not necessarily lead to life, but one step back will certainly lead to death,” it is hard to say that there will not be a joint scheme of various anti-Xi forces within the CCP to take unexpected measures to prevent Xi from being re-elected, and it is also hard to say whether the goal will really be achieved. As one old Chinese saying goes: planning is with man, accomplishing with heaven.
The year 2022 is destined to be filled with turmoil and unrest within the CCP, and a series of events will occur before the 20th National Congress. Who will emerge victorious, currently it is still impossible to predict. Therefore, anything is possible.
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