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How Xi Jinping Made His Power Grab: With Stealth, Speed and Guile

Mr. Xi kept a tight lid on his machinations. After the Politburo meeting in late September, he entrusted the task of revising the Constitution to just three officials: the chairman of the congress, Zhang Dejiang, and two close allies, Li Zhanshu and Wang Huning, both of whom were elevated last year into the Politburo Standing Committee, the party’s top body.

Mr. Wang has long been sympathetic to the authoritarian argument that China needs a strongman to maintain social order while pushing through painful policies, such as closing down inefficient factories.

“If somewhere lacks a central authority, or central authority is in decline, the country falls into a state of rupture and turmoil,” he said in an interview published in 1995.

In recent speeches, Mr. Xi has echoed that theme, arguing that China faces unprecedented risks and opportunities. “Our party was born under a sense of peril, grew up under a sense of peril and matured under a sense of peril,” he told a meeting of senior officials in December.

Momentum for ending the term limit built in November, when the party began secretly seeking suggestions on possible constitutional changes, according to the official account issued at the congress. Mr. Xi’s allies began an effort to support the change, and in a clue of their effectiveness, the official account said there was “consistent approval for issuing new rules on the term of office of the president.”

Strongman on the Rise

Still, Mr. Xi needed to win approval for his plan at the January meeting of the Central Committee, and when and how he did so have been the subject of dispute.

Reuters, citing two unnamed sources, has reported that the Central Committee failed to reach a consensus at the January meeting and convened its next meeting earlier than usual.

But four party insiders — two retired officials, a party newspaper editor and a businessman with family links to the leadership — told The New York Times that Mr. Xi prevailed in January, essentially confirming the official timeline.

Any committee members with misgivings were unlikely to speak out, given the array of punishment they could face, and party elders who may have once opposed such a move — including Mr. Hu and another former president, Jiang Zemin — are too old or too cowed by Mr. Xi’s anticorruption investigations to muster resistance, party insiders said.

Mr. Xi gained the Central Committee’s backing for ending the term limit just three months after winning his second term as party leader, his other main title, and before starting his second term as president.

Source: NYT > World

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