‘A very delicate issue’: Chinese leader Xi Jinping may not step down as expected after party congress next year
BEIJING — The Chinese president, Xi Jinping, appears prepared to defy the Communist Party’s established script for transferring power and delay the designation of his successor until after a party congress next year, unsettling the party elite and stirring speculation that he wants to prolong his tenure.
Although Xi’s decision will not be known until late 2017, the suggestion that he intends to break with precedent and begin his second term without a probable successor is magnifying uncertainties about who will rise and who will fall in the expected shake-up, including questions about the fate of the premier, Li Keqiang.
“It’s a very delicate issue,” said a member of the party establishment who regularly speaks with senior officials. He spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the party’s ban on discussing sensitive internal decisions.
In interviews, three other party insiders close to senior officials and their families said Xi appeared likely to delay picking a successor.
The succession quandary is shaping up as a defining test of the power and ambition of Xi, already China’s most dominant leader in decades. When and how his heir is chosen, and who is picked, will offer a measure of how much further Xi can bend the party’s ideas of collective rule that evolved after the upheavals of Mao Zedong’s last years.
The drama will probably begin in earnest this month, when the Central Committee, about 200 senior officials who sign off on major decisions, meets in Beijing. That meeting is likely to set in motion plans for the congress, which will meet in late 2017 to endorse a new top lineup.
While it is a given that the congress will back Xi for another five-year term as party leader, nearly everything else is up for grabs, giving Xi great sway to shape the new leadership.
“Having played the strongman politics since coming to power, Xi would be the least likely person to feel constrained by these unspoken rules” of succession, said Warren Sun, a researcher on Chinese Communist Party history at Monash University in Australia.