Xi Hits the Campaign Trail (Really)
Bloomberg Businessweek|November 01, 2021
Even in communist China, the president must bolster support and woo the elite to secure another term
By Rosalind Mathieson

It’s a delicate time to be in charge in China. Every five years a big meeting rumbles around in the world’s second-largest economy. While China isn’t a democracy, the Communist Party leadership meeting next year will be an election of sorts. President Xi Jinping, having coalesced power around himself and secured a constitutional rewrite to bust presidential term limits, is going for an unprecedented third term.

To secure it, he’ll need the endorsement of the powerful Central Committee and the more than 2,000 officials who will attend the 20th National Party Congress in 2022, likely late in the year.

“Elite politics in China have always been high-stakes and high-competition,” says Drew Thompson, a visiting senior research fellow at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy at the National University of Singapore. Winning over influential party members is “going to require lobbying” by Xi, he says, and the congress is also an opportunity for Xi’s critics “to coalesce and potentially challenge him.”

The action begins well before the congress starts. The Central Committee will first meet from Nov. 8 to Nov. 11 this year. That plenum will bring together state leaders, ministers, military chiefs, and provincial bosses. State-run Xinhua News Agency reports that they’ll review and adopt a resolution on the party’s major achievements during its first century.

There’s little indication that Xi, 68, will face a serious challenge, analysts say. But like his predecessors, he needs to keep China’s citizens happy and burnish his credentials as their leader. In recent months he’s spearheaded a national campaign to achieve “common prosperity.” He’s smacked down big companies such as Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. and DiDi Chuxing Technology Co., taken steps to rein in a culture of long hours and general mistreatment of workers, and pushed the country’s billionaires to better distribute wealth. The crusade has a core imperative for Xi: to sell the Chinese dream.

Preserving his power requires a laserlike focus on matters at home. That could explain why Xi hasn’t left China in almost two years. And why he’s expected to skip in-person appearances at two major gatherings starting on Oct. 30: the Group of 20 summit in Italy and the COP26 climate meeting in Scotland.

The Covid-19 pandemic does give Xi a rationale for his choice to stay home and stay focused on domestic affairs. China’s “Covid-zero” policy keeps it largely shut off to the outside world, and recent outbreaks have spurred fresh lockdowns in the north.

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