The Sixth Plenum of the 19th Central Committee of the Communist Party of China (CPC) cemented the position of Chairman Xi Jinping and put him in the same league as former CPC leaders Mao Tse Tung and Deng Xiaoping, However, the equation of President Xi’s status with that Mao and Deng was not unexpected as Xi enters a crucial decade of in power. Faced with global opposition and the increasing need to keep the CPC together, Xi faces an uphill task in the coming decade. That is why the Sixth Plenum chose to pass a resolution, only the third such resolution in the history of the CPC, codifying the past and envisaging the future under Xi Jinping. Two things stand out from this document, first the importance given to Xi’s leadership, for now and in the future and second, continuity in the Party’s stance on the Cultural Revolution and Tiananmen incident.
This is only the third such resolution adopted in the CPC’s 100 years history, reflecting the importance attached by the Party to the current situation China finds itself in today. The document states that the party has never swerved from its rejection of the Cultural Revolution, which plunged China into a decade of chaos and violence from 1966. Officially titled “Major Achievements and Historical Experience of the Communist Party of the Past 100 Years”, the Third Resolution also cemented President Xi Jinping’s status on a par with Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping. The resolution has been widely interpreted as paving the way for Xi to stay on as party chief beyond the 20th National Congress next year and take on a third term as the country’s president in March 2023.
The 36,000-word document, adopted at the Sixth Plenum of the CPC’s 19th Central Committee, hails Xi Jinping, for having engineered “major ideological breakthroughs” and identifies him as the leader who will steer China towards achieving national rejuvenation and becoming a great global power. While this language may be typical of Chinese official documents, it sets to rest any doubts about Xi being the “core” of the Party. The plenum glorified Xi Jinping as being “great”, “glorious” and leading a “correct party”. It further praised Xi as the “core”, “backbone”, and “anchor” and for playing “guiding role” and as the “principal founder” of Xi Jinping Thought”. The plenum statement also directed the rank and file for “resolutely upholding Comrade Xi Jinping’s core position on the Central Committee”. In other words, total loyalty to Xi is demanded!
The first resolution of the Party was released in 1945. It confirmed Mao’s status as the founding father of China. The second was issued in 1981 and officially repudiated the Cultural Revolution. A communique issued after the Sixth Plenum (2021) states that the previous CPC resolutions remain valid and describes the Cultural Revolution as “a catastrophe” and “10 years of turmoil” and holds Mao responsible for it. It is also admitted that mistakes were committed before the Cultural Revolution also, including the “Great Leap Forward”, “the people’s commune movement” and the excessive scope of the anti-rightist struggles.
It repeats the 1981 resolution’s line that the Cultural Revolution took place because Mao’s “theoretical and practical mistakes” had become increasingly grave and that the party had failed to rectify them in time. “Comrade Mao Zedong made a wrong assessment of the class situations in the country and our political development and launched the Cultural Revolution … [and the movement] brought the most serious setback and losses” for the country since 1949, the resolution says. The landmark Third Plenum in 1978, which officially ended the Cultural Revolution, “made the significant decision to completely reject the Cultural Revolution. For the past 40 years, the party has unswervingly upheld the policy and direction of this  plenum,” the third resolution adds. The reference to the Cultural Revolution as a ‘catastrophe’ is a clear indication that many within the CPC want to make sure Deng’s legacy of ending the Cultural Revolution and launch reforms and opening up policy would never be abandoned.
The Third Resolution also touched on the 1989 Tiananmen crackdown, repeating the party’s long-held position that the event was “political turmoil” caused by both external and domestic forces. It said that in quelling the unrest, the party and the government “defended the socialist regime” and the “fundamental interest of the people”. The significance of the Third Resolution in 2021 lies in echoing the past and recording the achievements of past leaders. For Xi, it is important to keep the Party’s legacy alive, while forging his own path for party and country. The very fact that President Xi in his Plenum explanation speech specifically mentioned that the previous resolutions would not be changed is a clear sign of his willingness to accept Mao and Deng as prominent party leaders, while continuing to accept that some of Mao’s actions could be criticised.
The Third Resolution is therefore important as it quotes Mao as having said “Our Party has always attached great importance to reviewing its historical experience. As early as in the Yan’an period, Comrade Mao Zedong pointed out, ‘We will not be able to achieve greater success unless we have a clear understanding of our history and of the roads we have traveled’.” This reflects the continuity in the CPC’s legacy and Xi’s understanding of the need to keep historical lessons alive while planning ahead. In 1981, the Second Resolution categorically repudiated the Cultural Revolution. The criticism of Mao for the Cultural Revolution was for the choices he made, rather than his viewpoint. The change of track under Deng from giving primacy to the economy from politics set the stage for China’s four modernizations.
The Third Resolution is also about the “new era” that President Xi wants to build for China. If the historical consensus is one aspect, then equal importance is given to the new “post reform and opening up era”, signalling that Xi Jinping wants to forge ahead without wasting any time. Any effort to question the past could lead to further internal divisions within the CPC, something Xi can ill afford at this juncture. From a foreign policy perspective, the Plenum stresses on “major country diplomacy”, as is to be expected of a China aspiring to be a world power. This of course, does not mean that it will withdraw its attention towards India, which China continues to view as supporting the US and its allies against the CPC and therefore an adversary. More importantly, however, China’ s recent actions along the border show that it views India as a challenger and that it will work towards maximising its gains on the border as fast as it can. Given this situation, India must not let her guard down.