Signs of a schism: Xi’s ruthless power grab challenged at National People’s Congress

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By Willy Lam,

The apparent leitmotif of this year’s meeting of the National People’s Congress (NPC) and the top advisory body, the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), consists of ways and means to resuscitate the Chinese economy. However, political issues – particularly differences among members of the Politburo Standing Committee (PBSC), China’s supreme ruling council – have stolen the limelight.

Delegates meet for the opening session of the National People's Congress (NPC) on March 4.
Delegates meet for the opening session of the National People’s Congress (NPC) on March 4.

Firstly, the status of President Xi Jinping as “core of the leadership” seems to be facing challenge. Last December (2015), the official media began calling Xi the “core of the leadership.” And the leaders of at least 20 provinces and directly administered cities have professed allegiance to “the central party leadership with comrade Xi Jinping as the core.”

However, during speeches given by NPC Chairman Zhang Dejiang, CPPCC chairman Yu Zhengsheng and Premier Li Keqiang (all three are PBSC members) the word “core” did not appear. In his Government Work Report delivered on March 5, Li referred to Xi five times. For example, he praised the guidance provided by the “central party leadership with comrade Xi Jinping as General Secretary.”

This is similar to the protocol accorded former president Hu Jintao, who never attained the status of “leadership core.” [By contrast, ex-president Jiang Zemin was called the “core of the Third-Generation leadership.”]

This development shows there is still substantial resistance in the party to elevating Xi to the lofty status of “leadership core.” At the same time, contradiction between Xi and Premier Li – the representative of the rival Communist Youth League (CYL) Faction headed by ex-president Hu Jintao – seems to have broken into the open.

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