Risks & Trends

‘Scenario One & Two: Xi Steps Down'

Center for Strategic & International Studies (CSIS)

Richard McGregor | Lowy Institute
Jude Blanchette | Center for Strategic & International Studies
‘Scenario One & Two: Xi Steps Down'
‘Scenario One & Two: Xi Steps Down'
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After Xi

2

‘Scenario One: Orderly Transition in 2022’

April 21, 2021

‘In this scenario, Xi thwarts the current consensus by handing over his leadership positions to at least one individual from the current Politburo Standing Committee (as per existing regulations).’

  • 'Given Xi’s extensive purges, whomever he selected as his replacement would have to be steadfastly and publicly loyal.'
  • 'Only with such reassurances would Xi feel that he, and his family and associates, will be safe in retirement.'  

‘There is one important caveat to the above scenario:'

  • 'Even if Xi were to designate a successor and hand over all three leadership positions, it is all but certain that he will continue to rule informally, much like Deng Xiaoping did after he resigned from his final formal title in the wake of the 1989 crackdown.’

‘Without resorting to pop psychology, there is nothing in Xi’s current leadership style that indicates he will quietly retire, even if he slips out of public view.’

  • ‘Having Xi rule informally would have the practical impact of adding uncertainty into the governance policymaking process.’
  • ‘Deputies and subordinates would need to navigate the uncertain territory of following the instructions of the de jure leader, Xi’s successor, and the commands of the informal one, Xi himself.’

‘Scenario Two: Xi Prepares a Succession Plan to Retire at 21st Party Congress in 2027 or the 22nd Party Congress in 2032’

‘Even assuming Xi does retire in 2027 or 2032 — in part or in full — it stands to reason that he would continue to exercise enormous power, as did Deng Xiaoping after 1989, with the attendant tensions discussed above.’

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