Xi's policy moves may signal return to strongman leadership

Xi's policy moves may signal return to strongman leadership

BEIJING - Already deemed a stronger leader than his predecessors, President Xi Jinping has emerged from his first policy summit looking more powerful than before.

He has gained more say over security and economic policies in moves reflecting a new phase of centralised decision-making which, along with his enhanced powers, could show a return to the strongman-style leadership not seen since Deng Xiaoping's rule.

Mr Xi tightened his control over the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) through two initiatives announced on Tuesday at the end of the Third Plenum, traditionally a platform for a new leadership to unveil its policy priorities.

One is the new "state security committee" that will allow him to sidestep the government and direct China's domestic and foreign security policies.

The proposed outfit is a coup for Mr Xi, given that former president Jiang Zemin, who helmed China from 1989 till 2002, tried and failed to set one up in the 1990s. Opposition from other members of the apex Politburo Standing Committee (PSC) who wanted to be involved in foreign and security policy was a key factor in Mr Jiang's failed attempt.

Analysts say Mr Xi's ability to pull off such a committee in his first year as China's top leader reflects his growing stature and also insatiable hunger for power.

"China has not seen a leader who has allocated so much power to himself since Deng Xiaoping," said Hong Kong-based analyst Willy Lam.

"We are seeing a departure from the collective leadership under Hu and Jiang and a return to the strongman politics under Deng. In fact, Xi is looking like a really power-hungry person."

Since taking power, Mr Xi has impressed many as a stronger leader. He has clamped down on ideological debate, fought graft and even made officials criticise themselves publicly to assert his authority.

His aristocratic background as the son of late vice-premier Xi Zhongxun is a key factor for his stronger political clout than his predecessors.

Said University of Chicago analyst Yang Dali: "It's clear now that Xi Jinping is far more established than both Hu Jintao and Jiang Zemin."

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