It is a very significant, and staggeringly rapid, achievement for Xi to have his Thought elevated to the Party charter. The comparisons with Mao are becoming harder to resist, simply because he has accumulated such incredible power in such a short space of time. We should resist the temptation though, because there is no indication that Xi has any Mao-like proclivities or intentions. And, the one caveat to Xi Thought is that it is an add-on to Deng’s, rather than a unique stand alone – which suggests that behind the scenes there is resistance to giving Xi an even stronger mandate.
What he does have though, is the basis for shaping China in his image almost without obstacle in the near term, and the foundation for continuing to influence the country for a long time, far exceeding the next 5 years. With Xi Thought ensconced as guiding ideology, it is unlikely that China will diverge from Xi’s vision in the short-medium term and, potentially, for decades to come.
In one way this is good news for the rest of the world: at least we know what we are dealing with. In another, it represents a very real challenge, because Xi’s vision includes, for the first time in contemporary Chinese history, staking out a global leadership role. This will inevitably bring China’s interests up against those of other powers, and a strategy for managing relations and expectations of a more “robust” Chinese global engagement policy is crucial.
America’s foreign policy disarray and leadership vacuum represents a “strategic opportunity” for China as Xi noted in his work report and I expect taking advantage of this opportunity to be a major feature of Xi’s second term.
Meanwhile, the issue of succession has been rendered much less significant by the elevation of Xi Thought, which will tie the hands of anyone who follows. Xi is looking more and more like a “paramount leader” a la Deng and Mao, albeit one who still has a lot to prove.