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Xi Jinping is in a good position to break norms and continue to lead China


In China, the ruling Communist Party has wrapped a four-day meeting that could lead to an unprecedented third term for President Xi Jinping. It also signed off on a reassessment of the party's 100-year history. NPR's China affairs correspondent John Ruwitch has been following all of this and joins us now. Hi, John.

JOHN RUWITCH, BYLINE: Good afternoon.

CHANG: Good afternoon. OK. So very quickly, exactly what was this meeting?

RUWITCH: Yeah. So this was a meeting of the central committee of the Communist Party of China. These are the top officials, the top roughly 375-400 officials. So governors of provinces, central ministry bosses, those types of things, they meet about once a year. And this is the last meeting of the central committee before a party congress next year. Now, party congresses happen once every five years. They reshuffle officials, and that's normally when Xi Jinping would be stepping down. So, yeah, the key thing to come out of this is that history assessment that you mentioned.

CHANG: Right, which is kind of strange because you would think leaders who only meet once a year would be talking about what's happening today, not looking at the past, right? So what's going on here?

RUWITCH: Well, remember, this is a one-party state, right? So the party here derives its legitimacy not from elections but from a couple other things. And one of them is the delivery of public goods, like economic growth, public security, managing COVID - right? - clean air. It also gets legitimacy and authority from its history, from being, as the party tells it, the force that freed China from a period of subjugation at the hands of foreign powers and weakness, the force that made the country's, you know, economic boom happen and has led it to the cusp of being a superpower. You know, freedom to debate these things is not really open in China. So the official versions matter. Timothy Cheek is a China politics expert at the University of British Columbia.

TIMOTHY CHEEK: The resolution tells people what you do and say if you want to get along. It is the guardrails, so the rules of the game, that everybody will have to work with.

CHANG: Interesting word choice, guardrails So what are these guardrails? Like, what is this history resolution actually saying?

RUWITCH: Well, we haven't actually seen this history resolution. We've seen readouts of it from official media. And in a nutshell, it says the party has done great things in its 100 years of history. The resolution appears like it's going to gloss over the traumatic events, the policy mistakes of the past, like the Cultural Revolution, and it says the party's actions of the past century basically have opened the right path for China going forward. It gives a big thumbs up to Xi Jinping and his policies. You know, an official readout even called Xi Jinping thought the Marxism of contemporary China. So it's hard to be more explicit than that in terms of endorsing Xi Jinping.

CHANG: And real quick, what would you say is the main takeaway from all of that?

RUWITCH: Well, Xi is in a stronger position, really, now to break norms, to stay on for that third term that you mentioned. He still has a year to go. So, you know, it remains to be seen exactly how he navigates things going forward.

CHANG: Right. That is NPR's John Ruwitch. Thank you, John.

RUWITCH: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

John Ruwitch is a correspondent with NPR's international desk. He covers Chinese affairs.

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