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Cult of ‘Xi uncle’ grows as Communist party boosts his image

world Updated: Oct 28, 2016 20:00 IST
Sutirtho Patranobis
Sutirtho Patranobis
Hindustan Times
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File photo of a man looking at a building covered with posters of Chinese President Xi Jinping in Shanghai in March this year. REUTERS/Aly Song/File Photo (Reuters)

Gushing state media editorials on Friday greeted President Xi Jinping’s elevation as the “core” of the Communist Party of China (CPC), a day after party members were ordered to unite around him at the end of a key meeting in Beijing.

Newspapers and experts said the CPC’s decision to call on all its 88 million members to “closely unite around the CPC Central Committee with Comrade Xi Jinping as the core” would give China “the impetus to realise its two centenary goals”.

The call was included in a communique released on Thursday after the sixth plenary session of the 18th CPC Central Committee, held from Monday to Thursday.

“The strong leadership of the CPC Central Committee with Xi as the core is vital to China’s targets to build an ‘all-round moderately prosperous society’ for the CPC’s centennial in 2021, and for it to become a ‘modern socialist country’ in time for the PRC’s centennial in 2049,” Liu Dongchao, a professor with the Chinese Academy of Governance, told official Xinhua news agency.

“Xi as core long affirmed by public opinion,” said an editorial in the nationalistic Global Times tabloid.

Praising Xi’s anti-graft campaign, the editorial said: “It was beyond anybody’s belief that corruption could be tamed and officialdom would progress toward less corruption a few years ago. But it is happening in China.

“Luxurious restaurants and entertainment sites that officials frequented in the past have been shut down due to poor business. Officials use domestic cars instead of Audis now.”

It added, “All Chinese know clearly that the Xi’s leadership has played a critical role in the changes in China in the past four years and the significance of the word ‘core’ being written into the Party document…This is what the Chinese people are willing to see.”

But for China watchers outside the CPC fold, the announcements were a sign Xi was consolidating power – the word “core” adds to his list of titles.

“Xi is no doubt more powerful than his two predecessors in a comparable stage of leadership cycle but he has not yet established himself as the strongman, let alone a leader of Mao’s stature. The current plenum is likely to be a key moment when he may try to establish himself as a leader beyond being just first among equals. The outcome of the plenum should provide pointers on if he can get his way,” Steve Tsang, director of China Policy Institute at the University of Nottingham, told Hindustan Times on Wednesday.

The consolidation was of power around the already powerful Xi was expected by experts.

“It’s clear from state media coverage of the sixth plenum that the emphasis is on unity within the party, and unity around the leadership of Xi Jinping. One of the most important catchphrases we are seeing right now is: ‘To govern the nation, we must first govern the Party; in governing the Party, we must be strict,’” said David Bandurski, a researcher at the University of Hong Kong’s China Media Project.

It is around the all-powerful figure of Xi that the CPC’s unity has to be forged, experts said.

“The message here is the senior leadership will not tolerate division and dissenting opinion within the party over the direction of the country. Xi Jinping expects loyalty and unity,” Bandurski said.

On China’s Twitter-like Weibo platforms, the president was praised as the “mighty Xi uncle” by many users.

“With Uncle Xi as the party’s core, our Chinese dream will definitely be realised,” one user was quoted as saying by Reuters. The “Chinese dream” refers to Xi’s notion of building a strong and prosperous country.