China's Communist leaders begin top meet expected to boost Xi

(FILES) This file photo taken on March 11, 2021 shows China's President Xi Jinping applauding after the result of the vote on changes to Hong Kong's election system was announced during the closing session of the National People’s Congress (NPC) at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing.

Beijing, China | The top leaders of China's ruling Communist Party on Monday started a pivotal meeting expected to further firm President Xi Jinping's grip on power.

Some 400 members of the party's powerful Central Committee gathered in Beijing for the four-day plenary, which -- like all meetings of China's secretive leadership -- is being held behind closed doors.

State news agency Xinhua said Xi opened the meeting with a work report and "explanations on a draft resolution on the major achievements and historical experience" for the party through its 100-year history.

The resolution will set the stage for the 20th Party Congress next year, at which Xi is widely expected to declare that he will serve a third term in office, cementing his position as China's most powerful leader since Mao Zedong.

State media has hailed Xi's leadership in the run-up to this week's meeting, with Xinhua declaring he is "a man of profound thoughts and feelings, a man who inherited a legacy but dares to innovate, and a man who has forward-looking vision and is committed to working tirelessly".

Widely regarded as China's most powerful leader since Mao, Xi's tenure has been marked by a sprawling anti-corruption crackdown, repressive policies in regions like Xinjiang, Tibet and Hong Kong, and an increasingly assertive approach to foreign relations.

He has also created a leadership cult that has quashed criticism, stamped out rivals and introduced his own political theory -- known as Xi Jinping Thought -- to school students.

Chris Johnson, senior fellow at the Center for Strategic International Studies, told the Sinocism podcast the new resolution could mark an opportunity for Xi "to tidy up...some of the bits from history that he doesn't like", including the excesses of economic reforms in the 1990s.

Xi recently launched a campaign of "common prosperity", designed to tackle wealth inequality and tighten oversight of home-grown business giants.

- Rewriting history -

The Central Committee resolution would mark the third of its kind in the history of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). 

The first, passed under Mao in 1945, helped cement his authority over the CCP four years before it seized power. The second, under Deng Xiaoping in 1981, saw the regime adopt economic reforms and recognise the "mistakes" of Mao's ways.

The latest could see Xi "do in effect to Deng what Deng did to Mao, which is to criticise the excesses of Deng Xiaoping's reform and opening policies," added Johnson.

The timing is significant, coming a year before Xi is expected to secure an unprecedented third term in office at a twice-a-decade congress.

Having scrapped term limits in a 2018 constitutional amendment, Xi has not appointed a clear successor and is expected to lead until at least 2027.

"Xi Jinping has already started to rewrite the history of the Party in school books, universities, and the press... greatly reducing the failures -- Great Leap Forward, Cultural Revolution -- and glorifying his action as General Secretary of the Party," said Alice Ekman of the European Union Institute for Security Studies.

The new resolution is "clearly part of Xi Jinping's efforts to prolong his presence at the head of the party," she added.

Steering the post-pandemic economy as well as the question of Taiwan -- a democratic island that Beijing claims as its own territory -- could also be on the meeting agenda this week.

© Agence France-Presse

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