What Is Xi Jinping Afraid Of?

China’s Regime Is Less Secure Than It Looks

China's President Xi Jinping attends a welcoming ceremony outside the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China, October 14, 2015. Jason Lee / Reuters

What is Xi Jinping afraid of? For several years leading up to this year’s 19th Party Congress in Beijing, his government has been tightening the screws on lawyers, academics, civil society activists, and public intellectuals. It has been intensifying control over media while heightening propaganda about the brilliance of Xi’s leadership and demanding ever more intense loyalty from party members and bureaucrats. Its anti-corruption campaign has continued to weed out high-level officials who demonstrate insufficient personal loyalty to Xi.

The most striking recent case was the fall, in September, of Sun Zhengcai, a Politburo member and Communist Party secretary of the southwestern megacity of Chongqing. Like all purged high officials, Sun was denounced for corruption, sexual license, and other crimes—charges to which virtually every one of his colleagues is vulnerable—but his likely real crime was failing to put enough effort into promoting Xi’s popularity in Chongqing, where Xi’s former rival, Bo Xilai, is said to remain more popular than Xi, even five years after a spectacular fall from power. Sun has been replaced as that city’s party secretary by the most fervent of Xi loyalists, Chen Min’er, whose primary task will be eliminating Bo’s legacy from Chongqing.

At the party congress, Xi packed the Central Committee and its two higher organs, the Politburo and the Politburo Standing Committee, with loyal followers. Fifteen of 25 Politburo members have histories with Xi dating back to his early service in Fujian and Zhejiang provinces (or even, in one case, to his days as a “sent-down youth” in Shaanxi during the Cultural Revolution). The other ten include technocrats, a token woman, and the standard two military officers, who owe their promotions to Xi—no one represented a meaningful political challenge. And not one of the seven members of the standing committee is qualified by rank and age to succeed Xi, signaling that he intends to serve more than the usual two five-year terms as general secretary. The

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