Xi Jinping ‘may become Chinese leader for life’

Chinese president dubbed ‘Supreme Leader’ as week-long Communist Party conference gets underway

Xi Jinping (centre) at the last party conference in 2012
(Image credit: Feng Li/Getty Images)

President Xi Jinping has been dubbed China’s ‘Supreme Leader’ by state media, fuelling rumours he could be appointed leader for life at this week’s Communist Party conference in Beijing.

The Chinese capital has become a security fortress for the week-long meeting which starts on Wednesday. During the most important gathering of China’s ruling elite in half a decade, the party will choose its leaders and, by extension, who runs the country.

The Sunday Times says Xi is “essentially guaranteed to continue as party general secretary and China’s president” for a second, and supposedly final, five-year term.

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Yet such is the adulation some experts have suggested the conference could endorse his premiership for life.

State media has taken the unprecedented step of dubbing Xi Supreme Leader, a title last used by Chairman Mao Zedong.

“From economic progress to military modernisation, from triumphs in space to innovations in cyberspace, from construction of high-speed trains to production of simple tractors,” Xi is being portrayed as “guiding hand behind every national advance” - and his face is everywhere in Beijing, says The Independent.

Willy Lam, China scholar at the Chinese University of Hong Kong told The Sunday Times this could be Xi’s “coronation as emperor for life”.

He is “the Mao Zedong of the 21st century”, said Lam. “He will emulate Vladimir Putin by ruling for as long as his health permits.”

As well as securing his personal position, Jinping will look to confirm important roles for loyal acolytes. Five of the seven-man standing committee of the Politburo, China’s ruling body, are due for retirement - and the party’s constitution is expected to be changed to recognise Xi’s guiding ideology.

Since becoming leader in 2012, Xi has extended China’s clout abroad while overseeing a massive crackdown on state corruption at home. However, his tenure has seen new restrictions on free speech and civil liberties.

Yet, despite criticism from human rights groups over the country’s slide towards authoritarianism, Xi remains hugely popular, with the latest Ipsos Mori poll saying 92% of the population believe China is on the right track.

This has led to comparisons with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin. The Washington Post asks if Xi will “simply stay on as president and party general secretary for a third term starting in 2022, take a Putinesque step of ruling through a puppet, or hover in the background with some other title, as Deng Xiaoping did”.

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