xi jinping Lintao Zhang/Getty Images

What Is Xi Jinping Thought?

The goal of the Chinese president's guiding doctrine is not to launch a new cold war with the West, or to export China’s political model. Rather, Xi wants to shore up the authority of the party-state within his country, including by ensuring that Chinese are not exposed to liberal-democratic ideas.

LONDON – In October 2017, at the 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China, the CPC enshrined in its constitution a new political doctrine: “Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics in a New Era.” At a time when a rapidly modernizing China is a leading global player, it is tempting to dismiss this doctrine as anachronistic “party-speak” from a bygone age. We succumb to that temptation at our peril.

Five months after the constitutional change, the National People’s Congress abolished the presidential term limit, meaning that, barring a political earthquake, Xi – who, at age 65, remains healthy and vigorous – could remain president for perhaps another 20 years. His eponymous doctrine will therefore shape China’s development and global engagement for decades to come, and perhaps longer.

In a sense, the inclusion of Xi’s name and thought in the CPC constitution delivered to him the exalted status of the People’s Republic’s founding father, Mao Zedong, as well as the architect of China’s modernization, Deng Xiaoping – the only two other leaders mentioned in the document. That, together with the removal of term limits, has led many to argue that Xi is the most powerful Chinese leader since Mao.