Chinese Communist Party: One Party, Two Visions

Chinese Communist Party: One Party, Two Visions

The ideological leader Xi Jinping and the more pragmatic Premier Li Keqiang have recently shown different ideas about China’s future.

Men in white shirts and a woman in conversation

China’s Premier Li Keqiang on Wednesday in the southern boom city of Shenzhen Photo: Liu Bin/imago

BEIJING taz | China’s state leadership is mostly perceived abroad as a monolith, headed by the CP chief, chair of the military commission and President Xi Jinping as sole ruler. That this is a strong simplification is evident these days more openly than it has been for years.

After the party leadership held its traditional summer meeting in the coastal town of Beidaihe two weeks ago, the top politicians are now again going out to the provinces for high-profile visits. Everything is choreographed down to the last detail and full of symbolism.

The trip by head of state and party head Xi was followed with eagle eyes. The 69-year-old was visiting the north-eastern province of Liaoning. Mao statues larger than life still stand there and bureaucratic state-owned companies dominate the ailing economy.

Here, Xi commemorated those soldiers who fought for the People’s Liberation Army in the civil war of the 1940s: a pathetic gesture that appealed to the patriotic sentiments of the populace but had nothing to do with their current problems.

Deng Xiaoping instead of Mao Tsetung

Premier Li Keqiang also visited a memorial site. But the symbolism could not have been more different: The 66-year-old traveled to Shenzhen, the innovative tech metropolis near Hong Kong, where the People’s Republic first experimented with the market economy four decades ago.

There he visited the grave of economic reformer Deng Xiaoping and said, obviously intended as a dig at the desolate economic situation, that China must continue the “reform and opening-up course, and the water of the Yangtze will not flow backwards”.

Of course, the meaning of such a metaphor does not go unnoticed by the Chinese. Because the country under Xi is actually developing back into a past that was thought to have been overcome long ago.

Because Xi places political control over economic growth, promotes ideological loyalty instead of pragmatism and has brought the economy to a standstill with his dogmatic zero-Covid strategy.

Xi wants to give the CP new legitimacy

The fact that Li can allow himself such a critical appearance also has to do with his current position: Already sidelined by Xi years ago, he is now about to retire. Now the prime minister wants to use his influence once again before he has to step down from office at the 20th party congress in October.

In fact, Li, who comes from a humble background, symbolizes a China as it could have developed. His biographical contrast to Xi is immense: on the one hand, a talented economics student who is described as mischievous and brash. On the other hand, the son of a revolutionary who, as an apparatchik, is not considered very charismatic.

And both have very different ideas about China’s economic future: while Li is banking on a more market economy, Xi would like to dare more socialism again.

Comparing Xi with the founder of the state, Mao Zedong, is absurd – both are diametrically different in character and leadership style. But Xi is working to give the Communist Party new legitimacy by rewriting the social contract that has been in place for decades.

Xi seeks third term, Li has to retire

For decades, the population primarily expected material progress from their leaders. But Xi wants to fill the ideological void again. He appeals to nationalist sentiments and commits his people to a struggle against the West, particularly the United States.

But the struggle for China’s course has long since been decided. While Li retires, Xi will attend the Party Congress the first head of state since Mao to serve his third term calling out. Li’s wake-up calls will stop by then at the latest. His speech on the economic situation has already been censored on some streaming services.

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