Xi holds up Deng as leader to emulate

Mmbers of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) should hold steadfastly to their socialist ideals, like Deng Xiaoping did, said Chinese President Xi Jinping, as he paid a glowing tribute to the late strongman.

"A steadfast belief is Deng Xiaoping's clearest political trait, and it should also remain forever the spiritual pillar of Communist Party members," said Mr Xi at a high-level symposium held yesterday in Beijing to mark Deng's 110th birth anniversary this year.

He also urged CCP members to "unite tightly, shoulder responsibilities boldly, and work hard" in achieving new victories for the path of "socialism with Chinese characteristics" that Deng introduced from 1978 in opening up China's economy.

The six other members of the CCP's apex Politburo Standing Committee (PSC) also attended the event, which took place ahead of Deng's birthday tomorrow as Mr Xi is making a two-day visit to Mongolia from today.

China typically gives higher-level treatment for special events every fifth or 10th year, like it did with Mao Zedong's 120th birth anniversary last December. But commemorative activities for Deng have a higher profile than those for Mao as Mr Xi seeks to achieve his political goals through the former, say analysts.

State media has intensified coverage of Deng's legacy, with some even describing Mr Xi as a torchbearer of the late leader's reformist streak and can-do spirit in opening up the country that led to rapid economic development over the past three decades.

In a lengthy English essay yesterday titled "To reignite a nation, Xi carries Deng's torch", the official Xinhua news agency noted how "similarities between the two statesmen have grown despite the years which separate them".

"It is directly from Deng that Xi inherited his 'magic tool' - reform and opening up - which he described as 'the only route that can adhere to and develop socialism with Chinese characteristics'," added Xinhua.

Observers believe the propaganda campaign, particularly the Xinhua piece yesterday, is aimed at boosting Mr Xi's stature as a more worthy successor of Deng than his predecessors: retired presidents Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao.

"This is clearly reflecting a propaganda strategy approved by Xi himself. It makes sense if one realises that Xi has embarked on a quest to move China forward and change it in a scale that can be compared to what happened under Deng Xiaoping," Nottingham University senior fellow Steve Tsang told The Straits Times.

A month after taking power in late 2012, Mr Xi evoked comparisons with Deng by making his first inspection tour in Shenzhen, seen as the symbol of China's reforms after it became the first special economic zone in 1980.

Hong Kong-based analyst Willy Lam said Mr Xi is seeking to heal a party divided by recent disciplinary actions against senior leaders such as retired PSC member Zhou Yongkang and former military leader Xu Caihou.

He added that Mr Xi is also trying to build a personality cult around himself through media articles comparing Deng's reform efforts with his own reform agenda launched at the CCP's third plenum last November.

"A state media report this week has described 2014 as the first year of comprehensively deepening of reforms, which implies that this is the first year of Xi's reform era," Prof Lam added.

All eyes are now on the upcoming fourth plenum, scheduled in October, which is expected to focus on judicial and legal reforms.

"The fourth plenum is likely to be the platform Xi has chosen to make a bold declaration of where he wants to lead China in the next stage of reform," said Prof Tsang.

This article was first published on August 21, 2014.
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