At the 18th Chinese Communist Party Congress in November 2012, Xi Jinping assumed formal power not only as China's President, but also as Party Secretary General and Chairman of the Central Military Commission. Thereafter he increased his power base by assuming the leadership of newly established policy coordinating commissions and small leadership groups. In a sense, therefore, the addition of a new designation as a 'core' [he xin] leader does not add to his formal institutional power, but nevertheless has immense importance and is a significant signal that he is indeed the final authority in almost all matters of state and party policy.
This is not the first time that a Chinese leader has been so designated. Such a description was first used by Deng Xiaoping in 1989, when he stated that any leadership must have a 'core' and that a leadership without a 'core' was not reliable. Deng referred to Mao as the 'core' leader of the first generation, himself as the 'core' leader of the second generation and Jiang Zemin as the 'core' leader of the third generation. Thus by assuming this title, Xi Jinping automatically assumes the mantle as a 'core' leader of the fourth generation. Xi Jinping is now on par with Mao, Deng and Jiang Zemin in the pantheon of the Chinese leadership.
With no serious political challenge to Xi Jinping's leadership in sight, what are the implications of this new development in Chinese politics?
Firstly, with the 19th Party Congress due to be held in autumn 2017, there are nearly three hundred seats that have to be filled in the Party's Central Committee as full and alternative members, about eleven seats in the twenty five member politburo and most important of all, five new members in the standing committee of the politburo have to be nominated. In other words, since the selection process would have the imprimatur of Xi Jinping; it goes without saying that he would have the major say in selecting the future leaders of China. If he wishes his legacy of realizing the 'Chinese dream' to be a reality; than his selections of personnel at the apex level of Chinese leadership would an important factor. Similarly if he wishes to 'amend' the rules to continue beyond 2022; that too would require the acquiesce of the leadership that he would have put in place.
Secondly, China today has achieved a power status in the world that few Chinese leaders in the past could ever have imagined. When Deng first alluded to this concept of a 'core' leader in 1989, China's GDP was one-fifth of Japan, half of UK and less than one-tenth of the US. In 2015 China's GDP is more than twice Japan's, five times larger than India's and four times larger than the combined GDP of the ten ASEAN states. All these developments have significantly altered the world view of the Chinese leadership and increased their ambitions, since the Chinese now have the resources to play a dominating role. Therefore the challenge before President Xi is how to channel such resources into converting China into a global world power.
Thirdly, whatever decisions that President Xi takes will have repercussions not only in the domestic sphere, but would impact the world outside. The slowing down of the Chinese economy is one such example and therefore whatever decisions that he takes to ameliorate the economy would have an impact on the global economy.
Fourthly, as China's power grows as do its ambitions its smaller neighbors on its periphery are bound to feel the impact. Some have already tried to seek the security umbrella of the US, whilst others have come to an accommodation with China. The dexterity shown by President Xi in handling the case of the Philippines and more recently of Malaysia, has raised the specter of Chinese economic and military power posing a serious challenge to the US. The ongoing strategic rivalry with the US may therefore intensify, as President Xi moves to consolidate the Chinese position in Asia. It is already evident that this power projection has led to a hardening of the Chinese position on issues that pertain to India, such as the boundary dispute.
The conferment of near absolute power on President Xi Jinping is therefore a realization within the Chinese leadership that as China faces a far more complex set of challenges than faced by earlier leaders; it becomes imperative that no domestic impediments are placed in the execution of these policies. It for this reason that the party plenum while emphasizing "all party members should closely unite around the Central Committee with Comrade Xi at the core" has also emphasized that the "system must always be followed and should not be violated by any organization or individual under any circumstances or for any reason". The Chinese leadership has thus been careful while granting near absolute power, not to spawn yet another Mao Zedung!