China's Return to Strongman Rule Gives President Xi Unchecked Power, Warns Expert Minxin Pei

President Xi Jinping’s major victory at the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) 19th National Congress has begun a new era in Chinese politics, argues Claremont McKenna Professor Minxin Pei for Foreign Affairs. “As a result, Xi’s rule is now set to last for the next 15 years and perhaps beyond.”

Pei warns, “Now that the CCP has returned to strongman rule, its future will depend almost entirely on the quality of Xi’s decisions. There will be few constraints on how he makes them. The last time the party had a leader with such unchecked power, the consequences were calamitous.” That is why the survivors of the brutal Cultural Revolution banded together in the 1980s to make sure that a leader like Mao Zedong could never again rule China. 

But Pei notes, “However powerful Xi appears to be, he now must earn the political capital to secure an extended term as China’s leader. In practice, he will need to deliver on his promises to rebalance and sustain China’s economic growth and to restructure its legal system.”

“The biggest questions about China’s new era surround Xi’s agenda,” writes Pei. While “optimists believe that Xi’s newfound supremacy will grant him a free hand to pursue other changes, introducing pro-market economic reforms and restructuring China’s legal system so that it protects property rights and promotes development more effectively,” Pei finds little to suggest “that a new wave of economic reform is in the offing.” 

Pei predicts “Xi will amend the party’s charter and China’s constitution to legitimize the extension of his power. . . . By securing two new five-year terms as head of both party and government, Xi would be able to hold on to power until at least 2032.”

Xi’s greatest priority will be “an overhaul of China’s legal system, aimed not at establishing genuine rule of law but at realizing rule by law, under which the state would use the legal system to maintain political, social, and economic control. Should this be the case, regression, not progress, will be the more likely outcome.”

The essay is now available at ForeignAffairs.com. This link bypasses the paywall on ForeignAffairs.com for one month following the release date. We encourage journalists to share with their audiences. 

This site uses cookies to improve your user experience. Click here to learn more.

Continue