Will Faction-Ridden China Communist Party Allow Xi Jinping to Complete a Third 5-Year Term?

Chinese President Xi Jinping is set to seal a third term in leadership at the upcoming Party Congress. While most observers believe Xi's supporters will seek to anoint him president for life, there are some who think that's a stretch. And yet some others think there is no guarantee that he will complete a full third term of five years.

Xi's ardent supporters want him declared at the Party Congress as lifelong leader but there will be strong pulls and pressures at the highest echelons of the party power structure, and Xi might be forced to make compromises. The consensus as of now is that Xi will complete another five-year term. However, there is a faction that doubts if Xi will invariably complete a full third term.

Xi Jinping
Chinese President Xi Jinping called food waste shameful as he aims to pass the new law Wikimedia Commons

"When all's said and done, it's a logical impossibility for [Xi] to go from victory to victory [indefinitely] ... Victories always come to an end," says political scholar Xu Guang, according to Radio Free Asia.

"There will be a lot of bargaining ... I think the most likely [outcome] is that he serves another five years at least," he added.

How Xi would cement his power will be interesting. While he was consultative and accommodative during his first term, the second term was marked by a more dominant independent streak. While he prepares to start a third term Xi has become simply all powerful.

The term limit was abolished through a constitution amendment in 2018, enabling Xi to seek a third term. However, analysts say he could go beyond that, seeking a fourth term in five years' time.

PM Li Keqiang on Way Out

Xi is all but certain to pure powerful party rival Li Keqiang, who is currently the prime minister of China. The Xi allies, the hugely dominant party faction is also certain to handpick the next politburo in such a way that it rubber-stamps Xi's stay in power irrespective of term limits.

Li Keqiang
Li Keqiang Reuters

The party Congress is set to start on October 16, but the China watchers are perplexed that no significant leaks have happened so far. That's usually not the case, analysts point out. "No major leaks have occurred so far," Li Cheng, director of the John L. Thornton China Center at the Brookings Institution, told Radio Free Asia. He says that the lack of leaks ahead of the congress was "a rare phenomenon."

There is mystery over the turn the Congress will take, and this indicates that Xi and his faction are likely to roll out changes that will cement his role at the top.

The removal of Keqiang is a near certain development as the current prime minister has unwittingly positioned himself on the opposite side of Xi's faction. Keqiang openly supports the "reform and opening up" policy but Xi has been moving away from this approach in recent years.

"Li Keqiang speaks and acts on behalf of a different faction [from Xi's 'princelings' faction]," says political scholar Li Ting, according to RFA. "There are different points of view within the CCP Central Committee, and different factions have formed," he adds.

A host of politburo members are well over the age limit of 68, and Xi, 69, will take this opportunity to remove the ageing leadership and fill the positions with his young loyalists. Usually, ahead of the Party Congress, there would be significant leaks about the composition of the all-powerful politburo standing committee. This year this has been missing, indicating that Xi is planning to overhaul the power structure at the top.

A strong clout over the politburo and the standing committee will ensure Xi completes the third term successfully, and probably extend his grip on power further.