U.S. scholar: Communist system has no way to solve the problem of leadership succession

The Communist Party of China will hold its 20th Party Congress in 2022, when General Secretary Xi Jinping will turn 69 years old and complete his 10-year term. The issue of succession in the post-Xi Jinping era has become a growing source of speculation.

According to a U.S.-based “China-literate” scholar, the crux of the problem is that the CCP’s political system has no way to address the issue of leadership succession.

Pei Minxin, a professor at Claremont McKenna College, said in a public seminar earlier that the unwritten rules for succession of CCP leaders after Deng Xiaoping, such as the top leadership of the CCP should not exceed two five-year terms and the seven up and eight down (retirement at 68), are only a “superficial system” and there is no effective mechanism to prevent these rules from being broken by subsequent leaders. There is no effective mechanism to prevent these rules from being broken by subsequent leaders.

“When Deng and his colleagues established these rules in the 1980s, they had a strong incentive to prevent the re-emergence of figures like Mao, who were victims of Mao’s dictatorship.” Minxin Pei said in March in conversation with Larry Diamond, director of the Center for Democracy, Development and the Rule of Law at Stanford University’s Institute for International Studies.

Pictured is Xi Jinping attending the opening ceremony of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference on March 4, 2021.

“But, again, they have their own self-interest. They want to maintain their power, they want to retain their discretion.” Pei Minxin explained. “So they make rules about age limits, term limits, in a way that suits their purposes, but those rules will not be enforced.”

Pei Minxin said there is no normal enforcement mechanism within the CCP system, and the same is true for leader succession. “They know that the enforcement mechanism in a normal political system is going to have legal intervention, constitutional review, or political intervention that can be done through internal elections. They don’t have such enforcement mechanisms in place.” Minxin Pei said.

“So, to a large extent, China is in what I call a superficial institutionalization phase, where on paper it looks like a normal authoritarian system, but the rise of Xi Jinping is the test of whether those institutional mechanisms are effective. Now we know they are ineffective.” Pei Minxin concluded.

Xi repealed a written constitutional limit on the term of office of the president in 2018.

Pei Minxin concluded, “This is how the Leninist system was set up, and in fact there are no effective checks and balances within it to prevent the rise of Stalinist, Maoist, or Xi-like figures.”

During his annual lecture on global democracy last year, Minxin Pei also said that a succession power struggle at the top of the Communist Party has surfaced after Xi Jinping lifted term limits for the Communist Party president.

He said Xi’s fears of potentially powerful rivals now prompt him to choose only weak, loyal supporters as his “successor,” and that historical experience after the deaths of Stalin and Mao suggests that power struggles are likely to erupt among his successors.