The Communist Party elevated President Xi Jinping’s political status on Thursday, referring to him as the “core” of its leadership ahead of the party’s five-yearly congress late next year.
The higher status gives Xi greater influence over reshuffles of the top ranks at the gathering.
A communique released on Thursday after the end of the Central Committee’s four-day sixth plenum in Beijing also said the party’s national congress would be held “in the second half of 2017 in Beijing”, marking the start of the formal preparations for the meeting.
In addition, the plenum adopted two new sets of regulations governing the conduct of senior cadres – guiding principles for political life within the party “under new circumstances”, and revisions to trial regulations on party internal supervision.
The communique said the party called on all members to “closely unite around [its] Central Committee with Comrade Xi Jinping as the core”, state-run Xinhua reported.
Analysts said the “core of the leadership” often represented the power of final approval or veto.
The term “core” was used by late leader Deng Xiaoping in 1989 to describe Mao Zedong, himself and his successor Jiang Zemin.
From the early 1990s, various top-level documents and state media reports referred to Jiang as the “core”, a title that eluded Jiang’s successor and Xi’s predecessor, Hu Jintao.
During Hu’s decade-long term as party chief, he was only referred to as the “general secretary” of the leadership, and in practice he was the “first among equals” with the other eight Politburo Standing Committee members.
With his new core status, Xi is expected to play a more dominant role in orchestrating next year’s reshuffles – a sharp contrast to Hu’s position 10 years ago.
Next year’s congress will see the election of more than 300 full members and alternate Central Committee members. Up to 11 seats on the 25-strong Politburo will also be vacated, including up to five members of the seven-member Politburo Standing Committee who are expected to retire.
Unlike the official title “general secretary”, the term “core” and its powers are not defined by party regulations.
Beijing-based political commentator Zhang Lifan said the new reference meant Xi was guaranteed to have unchallenged authority in the party.
“It means Xi has the final veto power. It’s the official crowning of his real power,” Zhang said. “It also means the end of the last ‘core’, Jiang Zemin. There can’t be two cores in the party.”
Jiang, 90, is widely believed to have exercised influence in mainland politics since his official retirement in 2004 and has been seen in public recently.
But Zhang said Xi’s crowning moment also comes with uncertainties. “It’s unclear if all senior leaders will obey him and it would mean more responsibility for him, including the downward economic pressure and rising social conflicts,” he said.
The communiqué also singled out members of the Central Committee, the Politburo and the innermost Politburo Standing Committee as the prime targets for the new conduct rules, making it clear that senior cadres would be judged on whether they toed the line on party positions.
“Senior cadres must not fudge their stand on fundamental matters, must not waiver on their political stance, must not be affected by incorrect ideology,” it said.
It said no organisation or individual was above party discipline and the party strictly forbade anyone from bargaining with the party or disobeying its decisions.
To stem corruption, the party would address election fraud and end the buying and selling of official posts and vote rigging.
Leading officials were banned from using their positions to seek benefits for friends and family, it said.
On the party’s internal political life, the statement said the party would unswervingly continue its collective leadership system and the senior leadership had to consult party members on major policies.
The communique said a Central Committee full member and three alternate members had been expelled from the party, while two alternate members had been promoted to full members.