05/05/2022, 12.39
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To shore up power, Xi weakens Communist Youth League 'enemies'

The faction to which Premier Li Keqiang belongs has lost four million members in 10 years. 20th Communist Party Congress: the Chinese president wants an ally as the new prime minister. The worsening pandemic and  economic crisis only obstacle to Xi, who aims to prevent Comunist Youth League member Hu Chunhua from heading government.



Beijing (AsiaNews) - It stands as probably the biggest "internal" danger to his appointment to a historic third term in power during the 20th Congress of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) next fall. Since coming to power in 2012, however, Xi Jinping has managed to progressively weaken the Communist Youth League, the powerful Party faction linked to his predecessor Hu Jintao and current Premier Li Keqiang.

As Nikkei Asia reports, by the end of 2021, the Youth League had 73.7 million adherents, down four million from 10 years earlier. During the same period, the CCP's membership grew by 10 million to 95 million.

Xi did not have a solid power base when he became general secretary of the Party a decade ago. The influence exerted by the Youth League, especially through its extensive organization, worried him: hence his efforts to marginalize it, favoring his own protégés from Fujian and Zhejiang, where he was provincial leader of the CCP. 

With Xi's stay in power almost taken for granted, the leadership's attention turns to who will replace Li Keqiang, who is nearing the end of his term. One of the favorites in the contest was Li Qiang, Party secretary in Shanghai: the health crisis in the country's commercial and financial megalopolis, however, would have made him fall from grace. The other hot name for the premier's post is Li Xi, CCP boss in the wealthy southern province of Guangdong, also a man of Xi.

The Youth League is banking on Hu Chunhua, vice premier and Politburo member. He is highly regarded for his achievements in poverty alleviation and food security.

Only a weakening of Xi could lead to the appointment of Hu Chunhua. If it takes on dramatic overtones, the worsening Covid-19 pandemic would hinder Xi's run and put his opponents back in the CCP. Shanghai has been in lockdown for more than a month; Beijing has not yet ordered a total shutdown, but is conducting mass testing and has encouraged at least 3.5 million citizens to work from home. Overall, there are active outbreaks in 14 provinces, affecting 180 million people.

Xi has reiterated several times that the government will continue to follow the zero-Covid policy, rather than adopting forms of living with the disease as has happened in most parts of the world. However, this insistence is beginning to spark protests, channeled through the web.

A critical article published at the end of March by the Sino-American health expert Zhang Zuofeng is circulating widely on Chinese social media. In it, the UCLA professor openly calls for a change in the zero-Covid line, especially to abandon mass antigenic controls, which he says increase the risk of infection transmission.

New and protracted lockdowns risk slowing down the already struggling economy even more in the last quarter of 2021-a luxury Xi cannot afford. To protect himself, the Chinese president has meanwhile put a gag order on those who raise the alarm, such as the well-known economist Hong Hao. It remains to be seen whether this will be enough.  


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