A repeat of history?

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A repeat of history?

The author is the Beijing bureau chief of the JoongAng Ilbo.

“Do not leave the country unless necessary or urgent.”

I saw this sign on many bus stops in Beijing over the New Year’s holiday. It is a warning from the Chinese foreign ministry’s resident protection center. It is one side of the “bamboo curtain” revived during the pandemic.

The Beijing Winter Olympics with the motto, “Together for a Shared Future,” opened on Feb. 4. But the world is paying more attention to the 20th Chinese Communist Party Congress later this year than the Olympiad. The “real politics” that will determine the leadership and blueprint of China in the future is far more important than “sports politics.”

Recently, Brookings Institution in the U.S. hosted a webinar titled “Toward Xi’s third term: China’s 20th Party Congress and Beyond.” Scholars shared their predictions. Stanford University Professor Alice Miller’s revival of the “1956 system” caught my attention. In early 1956, the 20th Party Congress of the former Soviet Union was held. It was where Nikita Khrushchev denounced Stalin’s cult of the personality.

The Chinese Communist Party (CPC)’s “1956 system” newly installed the post of chairman in the Central Committee of the party. Mao Zedong made the opening remarks, denouncing the arrogant attitude of a great nation. While the party chairman moved a step back, Vice Chairman Liu Shaoqi gave a political report to party members at the time. He redefined the contradiction between people’s demands to build an advanced industrial state and the reality of a backward farming country. Deng Xiaoping was the general secretary of the CPC and a permanent member of the Politburo. Deng created the Leading Small Group and oversaw administrative work.

Prof. Miller predicted that Xi will become chairman, a system abolished by Deng in 1981. In this scenario, Xi is “chairman of everything,” encompassing the party, state and military, rather than serving three consecutive terms as general secretary.

Will Xi attempt the change? I am curious to see how Chinese politics is working behind the Olympics.

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