Xi Jinping's power in China grows after unforeseen rise to dominance

Xi Jinping is all but certain to be given a third five-year term as party leader, but what’s not clear is how long he will remain in power, and what that means for China and the world. ITV News Asia Correspondent Debi Edward reports.

The Chinese economy was close to contracting last quarter, youth unemployment is at a record high and in many parts of the country anger has erupted at the government’s ruthless zero Covid policy.

In many countries a leader overseeing a faltering economy and facing discontent might also be facing calls to resign or find their position in trouble.

But the Chinese president is about to be handed more power. At the 20th Congress of the Communist Party which opens on Sunday, Xi Jinping will be given an unprecedented third term in office, making him second only to Chairman Mao Zedong in his length of rule.

President Xi Jinping is all but certain to be given a third five-year term as party leader. Credit: AP

He previously changed the constitution and scrapped presidency term limits so he could rule for as long as he wants. It is possible the 69-year-old could lead China, unchallenged, for the rest of his life.

In the run up to this historic party gathering, Beijing has been festooned with floral displays depicting the success of Xi’s first decade in charge, and socialist slogans including "Xi Thought" have been plastered across city centre footbridges.

Security has also been tightened in the capital and restrictions have been placed on people entering and leaving the city.

But cracks have appeared in the harmonious picture presented by the Communist Party.

In recent months protests have become more common, most of them targeted at the Government's zero Covid policy. Credit: ITV News

In a brazen act of dissent on Thursday a protester managed to breach surveillance cameras and unfurl his own banners criticising the party policies and calling the president a dictator and traitor.

In one of the banners, he asked simply for the end of Covid measures, for more freedom and the right to vote.

For those words and daring to disrupt stability in Beijing, particularly at such a sensitive and important time, the man responsible will be facing a lengthy prison sentence, possibly the death penalty.

The internet censors have gone into overdrive to remove all mention, or any discussion of the incident on Chinese social media but for a few hours many voiced their support of his action, and most damningly his message.

President Xi Jinping meeting with representatives of model civil servants during a national award ceremony. Credit: AP

He is just one man, and his opinions cannot be interpreted as a reflection of the majority in a country of 1.4 billion, but it does add to the signs of dissatisfaction we have seen in recent months.

A collapse of the housing market and banking scandals have sparked isolated but angry, large demonstrations. And in several cities where harsh lockdowns have been imposed, hundreds of people have taken to the streets in protest.

It would be wrong to suggest that this poses a serious threat to the Communist Party or the position of Xi Jinping.

Shop shelves are stacked with the President's books all across China. Credit: ITV News

There is an urgent need to address the economic situation but even among those protesting the blame is not pinned on Xi Jinping, it is directed towards local officials and those implementing rules in their locality.

We managed to speak to a group of labourers waiting for work at a construction site in Beijing. They are among the hardest hit by the country’s crippling Covid policy.

Jobs have been hard to find due to lockdowns and several building sites have gone bankrupt. But while many of them bemoaned the lack of work and worry about not being able to feed or heat themselves this winter, they still told us Xi was doing a good job.

Patriotic tour groups on the Great Wall of China. Credit: AP

There are no approval ratings in this country but if there were, I suspect the president would score highly. And not just because people are too scared to say otherwise.

Some of his most ruthless policies, such as his crackdown on corruption that has also worked as a means to remove political rivals, have proved popular with the public. He is credited with everything from poverty eradication to China’s success in space.

There is a general admiration for the way he has pitched himself against the United States as a challenging superpower.

Worker prepares to administer a Covid test at a hotel for journalists covering the 20th National Congress of China's ruling Communist Party. Credit: AP

Even the zero Covid policy and brutal way in which people have been forced into endless cycles of lockdowns, sometimes suffering a shortage of food, have garnered support among a large percentage of the population made to fear the virus and its spread.

When he came to power ten years ago, many predicted Xi would be a liberal leader. Those predictions couldn’t have been more wrong.

The future of China and its 1.4 billion people has been placed in the hands of one man, Xi Jinping's third term is set to be rubber stamped by pre-approved delegates. Unchallenged and with an increased mandate we can expect him to forge on with a more ambitious and potentially aggressive authoritarian agenda.

With his sights set on Taiwan and a challenge to global order, Xi Jinping's determination to make his mark in history presents a threat to us all.

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