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Politics & Security

[China Watch] How is Xi as Leader? Communist Party’s Newspaper is Conflicted

Party organ People’s Daily printed two contradictory articles a week apart, opening a window into internal conflicting views of Xi’s governance inside the Chinese Communist Party.

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Face masks of Xi Jinping

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China’s largest newspaper, the People’s Daily, published two very contradictory articles on President Xi Jinping earlier in December.

First, on December 9, the newspaper ran a piece describing China’s “reform and opening up” as a great reawakening for the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). 

The article was written by Qu Qingshan, a member of the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party who also oversees party history and literature.

The piece looked back at the history of China’s reform and opening-up policy since the 1980s, heaping praise on its effectiveness in making China the world’s second largest economy. 

The article was highly complimentary about the country’s former leader, Deng Xiaoping, and the way he pushed reform in China, describing him as a great pioneer behind the nation’s new era.

The piece also praised Deng Xiaoping’s successors Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao for furthering the development of the reform and opening-up policy.

However, the article’s evaluation of reform and opening-up stops at the Hu Jintao era, and there is no commentary on the era of President Xi Jinping. In fact, Xi’s name isn’t even mentioned. It is as if the current Xi administration is completely unrelated to the further development of the reform and opening-up policy.

In other words, while the piece was highly positive about the results of reform and opening up, it blatantly removed Xi from any praise,  amounting to an indirect attempt to degrade the current leader.

One could also interpret that the article is trying to say that President Xi’s politics have deviated away from the correct path of reform and opening-up. If so, it is another criticism of the incumbent president.

Assuming this is the case, it is quite unusual to see the CCP’s official newspaper proudly publishing an article criticizing President Xi Jinping.

Mural depicting Chinese President Xi Jinping, bottom center, and former Chinese leaders in Lhasa in western China’s Tibet Autonomous Region on June 1, 2021. (AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein)

Problems of the Pre-Xi Era

But then, on December 13, the People’s Daily ran a piece highlighting the problems up until the Hu Jintao era, and the newspaper was very positive about Xi Jinping’s politics. 

The article stated that China should stick fully to the leadership of the CCP. It was written by a different member of the CCP, who specializes in policy research.

The piece looked at how the CCP could strengthen its leadership, and referred to the “deviation” in China up until the Hu Jintao era in the following way:

“Under the reform and opening-up conditions, there was a certain degree of deviation concerning the content and format of CCP leadership, amid regret over the centralized leadership of the party and how to improve it. This was resolved after the 18th National Congress of the CCP.”

The 18th National Congress, which took place in fall 2012, saw the end of Hu Jintao as leader and the emergence of Xi Jinping as his successor.

In other words, the December 13 article not only pointed out the “deviation” from pursuing total leadership of the CCP — which existed up until the Hu Jintao era — but it also praised Xi for correcting this “deviation.”

Clearly, this second article was an attempt to fully contradict the one on December 9, and can even be interpreted as a “revenge” piece.

A poster of former Chinese Premier Deng Xiaoping.

Rare Contradictions

It is extremely rare to see two opposing articles — one indirectly criticizing Xi and the other one praising him — published several days apart in the People’s Daily.

It indicates that there are two conflicting schools of thought within the senior ranks of the CCP on how to evaluate the progress of reform and opening up since the Deng Xiaoping era, and also on how to view the politics of Xi, who is trying to break away from reform and opening up.

It is also worth paying attention to these two opposing camps in China. The reality in China today has surfaced through these articles in the People’s Daily.

As China looks ahead to its next National Congress in late 2022, what other developments will emerge due to political differences within the senior ranks of the CCP?

(Read the Sankei Shimbun China Watch column in Japanese at this link.)

Author: Seki Hei

Find other articles by the author in English on JAPAN Forward here.