July 21, 2021 | Policy Brief

The Chinese Communist Party’s New Loyalty Push Exposes Xi’s Insecurities

July 21, 2021 | Policy Brief

The Chinese Communist Party’s New Loyalty Push Exposes Xi’s Insecurities

The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) last week issued a new set of guidelines regarding its ideological and political work, one that targets not only CCP members but “all of [Chinese] society.” The announcement, which came on the heels of the CCP’s recent centennial celebration, reveals Chinese leader Xi Jinping’s deep anxiety about the durability of the party’s ideological dominion over the country.

Since assuming power, Xi has waged an intensely ideological campaign aimed at stifling academic and press freedoms, all the while orienting China around an aggressive form of nationalism. In marking the CCP’s 100th anniversary on July 1, Xi hammered home the message that only the party could have saved China from the poverty and humiliations of its past, and that only absolute loyalty to the party and to Xi himself can ensure China’s continued economic development and preeminent international status. To remain in power, however, Xi and the party must deliver on their promise of “high-quality growth” and “shared prosperity,” all the while taking into account that the drivers of the last decade’s growth are quickly running out of steam.

Since 2017, CCP members attending cadre meetings have immersed themselves in “Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for the New Era,” the political doctrine that Xi later enshrined in the CCP’s constitution. The party even developed a mobile application intended to broadcast such messaging to the masses. The latest CCP guidelines intend to go even further, namely by enhancing the public’s “sense of political, ideological, theoretical and emotional identification” with Xi’s ideology. This includes efforts to incorporate his doctrinal views “into the textbooks, into the classrooms and into the brains of students,” according to China’s Ministry of Education.

The new guidelines build on a CCP Central Committee announcement last month establishing seven new research centers focused on promoting Xi Jinping Thought, bringing the total number of such centers to 18.

The CCP’s revised guidelines mandate that Chinese companies combine ideological and political work with daily production, operation, management, and human resources development to help employees “resolve ideological doubts, quell spiritual worries, quench cultural thirst and relieve psychological pressure.” In residential areas, the guidelines demand that communities work to “deeply permeate” Xi Jinping Thought into the “work and life” of their people. Some villages have since begun broadcasting CCP propaganda from loudspeakers installed on the roofs of residents’ homes. In Xibaipo village in Hebei province, for example, loudspeakers deliver Xi Jinping Thought, party theories, and policies to villagers three times a day, according to a party-run social media account.

Not since the era of Mao Zedong has China been led by an autocrat unconstrained by elite party politics. At the CCP’s 20th Party Congress in 2022, Xi is set to begin a once-unthinkable third term as president.

One of the CCP’s key strengths over the years has been its ability to shift messaging and create new structures to deal with emerging international exigencies and domestic risks. Nevertheless, the stress that will be placed on the party over the next decade, along with Xi’s apparent concerns about the party’s ideological command, increase the potential for miscalculation as the regime tries to reconcile its fervent desire for modernization with the rigidity of one-man rule. These hazards include potential military skirmishes involving U.S. and allied forces in the Indo-Pacific.

If, how, and when Washington chooses to respond to these and other incidents carries major implications for Xi’s domestic political standing as well as for his calculus regarding China’s longed-for reunification with Taiwan. U.S. policymakers should carefully calibrate their ongoing pressure campaign against Beijing to avoid needlessly feeding into Xi’s profound insecurities. Failing to strike that balance could lead Xi to either speed up his reunification timetable or take other impulsive steps intended to shore up his weak domestic position, even if he realizes such moves are counter-productive to his long-term aims.

Craig Singleton, a national security expert and former U.S. diplomat, is an adjunct China fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD), where he contributes to FDD’s China Program. For more analysis from Craig and the China Program, please subscribe HERE. Follow FDD on Twitter @FDD. FDD is a Washington, DC-based, nonpartisan research institute focusing on national security and foreign policy.


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