The Communist Party of China (CPC) is expected to amend its constitution at the 20th Party Congress in October 2022,with the objective of consolidating President Xi Jinping’s authority within the party. The state news agency, Xinhua said the CPC Politburo discussed a draft amendment to the party constitution in a meeting chaired by President Xi Jinping, without specifying the changes. Xi Jinping is widely expected to break with precedent at the Party Congress that starts on 16 October2022 and secure a third five-year term, cementing his status as China’s most powerful leader since Mao Tse Tung, founder of the People’s Republic of China.
The last time the Party’s Constitution was amended was in 2017. At that the amendments enshrined “Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics”. One possibility this time around is that an amendment could shorten the ideology to “Xi Jinping Thought”, upgrading its stature to that of “Mao Zedong Thought”.
The CPC Politburo met (9 September 2022) to finalise the documents to be submitted for discussion at the upcoming seventh Plenary Session of the 19th CPC Central Committee, scheduled to be held on 9 October 2022 to set the agenda for the Congress. These documents include:
(i) Draft report by the 19th CPC Central Committee to the 20th CPC National Congress,
(ii) Draft amendment to the Party Constitution,
(iii) Draft Work Report by the 19th CPC CCDI (Central Commission for Discipline Inspection) to the 20th Party Congress,
(iv) Report on the implementation of the eight-point decision on improving Party and government conduct by the Politburo, and,
(v) A Report on the work of rectifying practice of pointless formalities and reducing burdens on those working at the grassroots since the 19th Party Congress Committee for discussion after being revised based on the deliberation results at this meeting.
The Politburo during its meeting noted that the actions on corruption since 2017 have borne fruit. This is significant because it signals the Party’s willingness to accept “Xi’s Thoughts” as the guiding principles for the future. The Politburo also said: “Since the 19th CPC National Congress in 2017, the CPC Central Committee with Comrade Xi Jinping at its core has made new decisions and raised new requirements for constantly improving Party conduct and enforcing Party discipline,(has) made revision to measures of the eight-point decision in this regard, and always puts promoting good Party conduct high on its agenda. Through persistent efforts, some longstanding misconducts have been curbed and deep-rooted malfeasances addressed which leads to significant improvements in Party conduct, the working practices of government officials, social morality, and individual virtues.”
The other possible change to the Constitution would also be an elevation of Xi’s power to enshrine the “Two Establishes”, a recent phrase which means the party establishes Xi as its “core” and his ideas as guiding principles. Another possibility, is an amendment that could reinstate the paramount position of Party Chairman, which was abolished in 1982.The Party Constitution can only be amended once in five years when the National Congress is held. The Constitution plays a role in regulating and guiding the efforts to uphold the Party’s overall leadership, The Politburo at its recent meeting hoped the amendments would help strengthen the party and the country.
A reading of the official statements from the meeting shows that it discussed the reasons why the CPC should want to amend the Constitution. “We need to rationally examine the prevailing trend of the development of today’s China and world beyond, and thoroughly review the practices and experiences of the Party leading the people in advancing reform and opening up and socialist modernization.”Further the Politburo observed that “based on the conditions in the new era, we need to focus on the new situations and tasks we are facing in our reform and development, adhere to our goal of meeting the people’s aspirations for a better life, and make plans and arrangements for the cause of the Party and the country from a strategic and overall perspective.”
The Politburo document states that making amendments to the Party Constitution at the 20th National Congress is in line “with new circumstances and missions (and) will help the whole Party better study, abide by, implement, and safeguard this fundamental document. It will also help advance the great cause of socialism with Chinese characteristics and the great new project of Party building”. What this implies is that all thoughts and discussions validated by the Report to the 20th CPC National Congress will be written into the Party Constitution, so that the “latest achievements” of adapting Marxism to China’s context and new circumstances will be fully epitomized and so will the new ideas, new thinking and new strategies of governance developed by the CPC Central Committee since the Party’s 19th National Congress in 2017.
All this jargon simply put means the CPC will take steps to strengthen Xi Jinping’s position and ensure the Party’s stability. Therefore, the amended Party Constitution will clarify “the new requirements for upholding and strengthening Party’s leadership and advancing the Party’s full and rigorous self-governance under new circumstances, so as to better navigate the great social revolution with vigorous self-reform”. The language used indicates that more steps will be taken to “fully understand and implement Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era, carry out the CPC Central Committee’s strategic plans for the self-reform of the Party, uphold the authority of the CPC Central Committee and its centralized, unified leadership, exercise full and strict governance over the Party, push forward the great project of the Party building in the new era, and make further progress in improving Party conduct, upholding integrity and combating corruption.”
At the end of the day, the writing is on the wall, that President Xi is likely to win a third term in office, without too much resistance. The interjection at this juncture of China’s internal and external policies will in fact determine the course of action adopted by XI once he enters his third term in office. Of note will be action on Taiwan and India, while efforts to normalise ties with the US will continue. If that sounds contradictory, one has to only look at recent developments with regard to Chinese foreign policy. This will show the way ahead, post the Party Congress!