China's ruling Communist Party moved on Tuesday to confirm Xi Jinping's rise to becoming the country's most powerful leader in decades by amending its constitution to add his name and ideology.
Xi's concept of “socialism with Chinese characteristics for a new era” was added to the party constitution at the close of a twice-a-decade major congress.
The constitution was also amended to include references to the party's “absolute” leadership over the armed forces and a commitment to promote Xi's signature foreign policy and infrastructure initiative known as “One Belt, One Road.”
That initiative seeks to link China to Southeast Asia, Central Asia, Africa, Europe and beyond with a sprawling network of roads, railways, ports and other economic projects.
“The Chinese people and nation have a great and bright future ahead,” Xi told party delegates as the meeting came to a close.
“At this great time, we feel more self-confident and proud. At the same time, we also deeply feel a heavy sense of responsibility,” he said.
The concept Xi has touted is seen as marking a break from the stage of economic reform ushered in by Deng Xiaoping in the late 1970s and continued under his successors Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao.
In a sign of Xi's greater clout, his name was attached to his theory, putting him on par with Deng and communist China's founder, Mao Zedong.
“In every sense, the Xi Jinping era has begun in earnest,” said Zhang Lifan, an independent political commentator in Beijing. “Only Mao's name was enshrined in the party ideology while he was still alive. We're opening something that hasn't been broached before.”
For centuries, Chinese emperors were accorded ritual names that signaled either they were successors in a dynastic line or the founder of an entirely new dynasty. What Xi accomplished this week was a modern equivalent of the latter, Zhang said.
“He wants to join that pantheon of leaders,” he said.
The placement of Xi's thought among the party's leading guidelines also comes five years into his term earlier than his predecessors.
Xi has described his concept as central to setting China on the path to becoming a “great modern socialist country” by midcentury. This vision has at its core a ruling party that serves as the vanguard for everything from defending national security to providing moral guidance to ordinary Chinese.
He's set the target dates of 2021 the 100th anniversary of the party's founding and the People's Republic's centenary in 2049 for the establishment of a prosperous, modern society.
While China has the world's second-largest economy and legions of newly wealthy urban residents, it continues to rank 79th in the world in terms of per capita GDP, according to the International Monetary Fund.
The move came at the close of the 89 million-member party's twice-a-decade national congress at Beijing's hulking Great Hall of the People, where nearly 2,300 delegates gathered to elect the party's leading bodies and hear reports.
Although the delegates nominally have the power to vote on candidates, all choices are carefully vetted and the outcomes decided by negotiations among the top leaders.