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"Socialism with Chinese characteristics" has been a recurring theme in the Communist Party's governing theory. (Photo by Akira Kodaka)
Politics

'Xi Jinping Thought' looks like rehash of existing doctrine

Amending the party charter seems to be a way to cement power

TETSUSHI TAKAHASHI, Head of Nikkei's China Headquarters | China

BEIJING -- Chinese President Xi Jinping's political vision, which was incorporated into the Communist Party's constitution on Tuesday, appears to be first and foremost a tool to consolidate power, since it scarcely differs from existing language in the charter.

A coordinated propaganda campaign touting the changes is already in full swing in state media. A front-page piece Monday in the People's Daily, an official party paper, says Xi's ideology will direct citizens to fight for the "great revitalization" of the Chinese nation.

On Oct. 19, a day after Xi outlined his thoughts in a three-and-a-half-hour speech at the opening session of the party's national congress, Heilongjiang Province party chief Zhang Qingwei said "Xi Jinping's 'socialism with Chinese characteristics for a new era' is important to the revival of the Chinese race."

In fact, the core of the concept overlaps the theory named after Deng Xiaoping, the paramount leader who reformed and opened up China's economy in the 1970s and '80s.

Deng's thought

"Socialism with Chinese characteristics" was a term coined in the Deng era as he introduced capitalist elements into what was ostensibly a planned economy.

When the People's Republic of China was founded in 1949, it was not immediately a socialist state. China was an agrarian society and the belief was that industrialization, with the help of capitalists, was needed to first lay the groundwork to proceed to socialism.

Mao Zedong's portrait in Beijing's Tiananmen Square. (Photo by Akira Kodaka)

Four years later, however, founding leader Mao Zedong decided to move directly to socialism. The world was in the midst of the Cold War. Mao observed the Soviet Union and decided that he too wanted to concentrate all authority in the Communist Party via economic planning. In 1956, Mao declared the transition to socialism basically complete.

Mao's ensuing Cultural Revolution in the 1960's pushed the economy to the brink of collapse. Once Deng Xiaoping assumed power, he began opening up China in 1978 and allowed private enterprise to help rebuild the economy, essentially bending the country back toward capitalism.

A poster of Deng Xiaoping in Shenzhen, China.(Photo by Katsuji Nakazawa)

But the party could not portray this as a return to capitalism. So Deng came up with a concept characterizing it as "the primary stage of socialism." China, a nation lagging in industrialization, had to develop its economy by adopting capitalist elements to achieve the still-distant goal of perfect socialism. The key to staying on course, the explanation went, was to be under the Communist Party's guidance.

On to the next stage

Xi has taken Deng's theory and added the label, "for the new era."

Deng's goal was to create a "moderately prosperous society." The party aims to establish such a society by 2021, the centennial of the Communist Party's founding. Xi has declared a new goal, that of a "great, modern socialist country" by 2049, a century since the founding of the People's Republic.

Like Deng, Xi is looking to develop China's economy using capitalist and market frameworks.

If there is a departure from Deng, it is contained in China's "principal contradiction" that Xi raised during his keynote address at the start of the Communist Party congress Wednesday.

"What we now face is the contradiction between unbalanced and inadequate development and the people's ever-growing needs for a better life," he said. Deng focused strictly on economic development. Xi's words suggest he wants a "better life" in terms of political and cultural dimensions as well.

The party will advance in five ways: addressing political, social, cultural and environmental development along with the economy. It is a blueprint to elevate China to a "world power" to rival the U.S. by 2049.

But Xi Jinping's thought is basically an extension of Deng's, and lacks fresh input. Many party members may have wondered whether Xi's thought wass revolutionary enough to be included in the party constitution with his name attached.

Fresh or not, Xi's goal all along was to have his name etched into the party constitution. Without many major accomplishments, his obsession to solidify his power could be a reflection of his feeling of unease.

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