Beijing — Chinese leader Xi Jinping was elevated to the pantheon of the country’s greatest leaders on Tuesday as his name was enshrined in the Communist Party constitution alongside Chairman Mao’s.
The inclusion of Xi’s eponymous guiding philosophy for the nation cements his place as the most powerful Chinese leader in decades and suggests he could remain its paramount leader throughout his lifetime.
Communist China’s founder, Mao Zedong, and the architect of market reforms, Deng Xiaoping, are the only other Chinese leaders to have their names in the document — and only Mao was alive when his was included.
Xi, 64, presided over the week-long congress’s closing session where 2,300 delegates approved the constitutional amendment to include "Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era".
An official reading out the amendment said the concept would be "a beacon for the work of the party".
The concept places a heavy emphasis on the party’s role in governing every aspect of the country, from the economy to what people are writing on social media.
"We must work tirelessly and forge ahead on the journey of realising the rejuvenation of the Chinese nation," Xi told the congress in concluding remarks.
With his name in the constitution, Xi will have the last word on all political matters and could stay on as the nation’s top leader even if he gives up the title of general secretary when his second term ends in 2022, analysts say.
Willy Lam, politics professor at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, says it will "enable him to be like Mao, leader for life as long as he’s healthy".
Xi’s predecessors, Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao, had their concepts included in the constitution but without their names and only when they retired.
Xi also managed to get two of his cherished programmes written into the constitution: an anticorruption campaign that has brought down 1.5-million crooked officials since 2012; and the Belt and Road initiative, the massive global trade infrastructure project intended to increase the country’s influence abroad.
The congress declared the Communist Party China’s "absolute leader", a clear sign that the party intends to further tighten its grip on the country.
The congress also elected a new 204-member Central Committee, which included just 10 women. It will elect the party’s new ruling council, the politburo standing committee, on Wednesday.
Xi is expected to secure a second five-year term as general secretary of the party and could also consolidate his power by filling the committee with allies, possibly without even presenting an obvious heir apparent.
A vast security apparatus was thrown around the congress, with businesses ranging from nightclubs to gyms closing to avoid any incidents, and factories shuttered in what turned out to be a failed attempt to clear the city’s notorious smog.
When he opened the gathering last week, Xi declared that China had entered a "new era" with the ambitious goal of becoming a "global leader" by mid-century.
His bold vision comes as Xi has sought to portray himself as a responsible global leader while US President Donald Trump trumpets a nationalist "America First" policy and the European Union grapples with Britain’s exit from its club of nations.
Xi’s blueprint suggests the Communist Party will continue to increase its control of the country, with no suggestion that crackdowns on human rights activists will wane.
Some of his goals, such as building a modern military by 2035, go beyond the end of his second term, suggesting that he foresees himself staying at the centre of China’s political life for years to come.
At the closing session, Xi said the congress established "the goal of securing a decisive victory in building a moderately prosperous society in all respects and then embarking on a journey to fully build a modern socialist China".
Despite Xi’s rising power, the composition of the politburo standing committee, the body that controls power, would still be crucial to his efforts, Lam said.
Xi and Premier Li Keqiang are expected to remain on the committee while the five other current members are supposed to step down under an informal retirement age set at 68.
There is no consensus among China watchers about who will end up on the committee, or if anybody will emerge as a potential successor.
If the right allies are named, Lam said, it would show that "he has full control over the politburo standing committee".