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Politics

Xi set to restore Mao-era CPC chairman post

Sources say president will propose changes to elders at Beidaihe meeting

Chinese President Xi Jinping stands on a military jeep as he inspects troops of the People's Liberation Army during a military parade in China's Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region on July 30. (Xinhua via AP)

BEIJING -- In a bid to further reinforce his power base, Communist Party of China General Secretary Xi Jinping will propose restoring the post of chairman of the Central Committee of the CPC at a key meeting to be convened shortly. 

Xi, who also serves as president of the state, will make the proposal at the Beidaihe meeting, an annual informal summit of current and retired leaders, held at the coastal summer resort in Hebei Province near Beijing.

The post of CPC Chairman was last held by Mao Zedong, seen as the father of the country, for more than 30 years until his death.

Attendees at Beidaihe will also discuss revising the CPC's retirement age under which senior members 68 or older at the time of a national party congress -- held every five years -- are expected to retire. In the lead up to the 19th party congress this autumn, Xi will propose revisions that will mark a major turning point for the collective leadership of the party, which has been in place since former paramount leader Deng Xiaoping implemented his reforms and open-door policy. 

Current, past leaders gather

CPC heavyweights gather between late July and early August every year to discuss key policy issues at Beidaihe. While no information about the gathering is publicly disclosed, decisions made during it greatly influence the party congress.

A key issue at this year's Beidaihe meeting regards appointing members to the Politburo Standing Committee, the top leadership of the party, which will be reshuffled during the congress. A party official told Nikkei that it will also consider a plan to restore the post of chairman of the Central Committee of the CPC. 

Mao held the post from 1945 till his death in 1976. Under the previous Chinese constitution, the post granted sweeping powers over the military, allowing Mao to oversee the armed forces of the CPC and the Central Military Commission.

The post was abolished in 1982 as the power Mao had accumulated allowed the country to slip into chaos, culminating in the Cultural Revolution. The plan to restore the post is aimed at extending Xi's rule.

Under China's constitution, the state president may serve up to two terms of five years each, while the CPC's provisional rule stipulates that the party general secretary is allowed to remain at the helm for two consecutive terms.

If the post of chairman of the Central Committee of the CPC is restored, Xi, under a new position, will be able to remain the number one leader even after the party congress in 2022, when his second term expires.

Although the plan to restore the post was discussed last year at Beidaihe with some party elders supporting it, ultimately decision was withheld, according to CPC officials. At the upcoming meeting, Li Zhanshu, director of the General Office of the CPC Central Committee, a Politburo member and a key Xi ally, is expected to present a detailed plan to change party rules during this autumn's congress and propose a constitutional amendment during the National People's Congress next spring.

The year's Beidaihe affair is likely to serve as a litmus test for Xi's ability to accumulate power, as he needs the support of other participants to forge ahead with his plans.

Amending the retirement age

Supporters for amending the unofficial retirement age argue that China needs a powerful leader to weather crises at home and abroad, such as economic slowdowns.

As the general secretary, Xi chairs the CPC Politburo Standing Committee. While being elevated to the special status of "core leader" last autumn, Xi has only one vote at the table, like the other members do. 

Being chairman of the CPC would give Xi greater powers. But the decision may again be put off at Beidaihe if skeptics prevail. 

The Beidaihe meeting will also review the retirement age of senior party members, now informally set at 68. Xi is concerned about this as Wang Qishan, his enforcer as secretary of the anti-corruption Central Commission for Discipline Inspection, is 69 years old and has to retire this autumn.

The president is reportedly considering keeping Wang in the Politburo Standing Committee on the grounds that the retirement age is merely an informality. Xi, who has used his anti-corruption campaign to eliminate rivals, would like Wang to help keep a watchful eye on the party.

In addition, Xi himself will be 69 at the 2022 party congress, and may be able to stay in power for a third term if the retirement age is changed.

The Politburo Standing Committee consists of seven members, and Xi will seek to replace a majority of them with his close aides. Xi was hardly a noticeable presence before he joined the committee in 2007. Though he does not have many close aides ranked high enough to become committee member candidates, he has a good chance of attaining his goal if Wang stays in the committee.

While Xi has strengthened his power base during his first term, some pundits say it will be difficult for him to both revive the post of CPC chairman and amend the retirement age.

But a CPC official brushed aside this view. Xi will continue accumulating power, he said. "It is a matter of just how much stronger will he grow."

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