Paramount leader

In modern Chinese politics, the paramount leader or supreme leader (simplified Chinese: 最高领导人; traditional Chinese: 最高領導人; pinyin: Zuìgāo Lǐngdǎorén; lit. 'Highest Leader') of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), Government of China and People's Republic of China (PRC) is an informal term for the most prominent political leader in the PRC.[1] The officeholders are usually General Secretary of the Chinese Communist Party and Chairman of the Central Military Commission.[2] The paramount leader is not, however, a formal position nor an office unto itself. The term gained prominence during the era of Deng Xiaoping (1978–1989), when he was able to wield political power without necessarily holding any official or formally significant party or government positions at any given time (head of state, head of government or CCP General Secretary).[3]

Paramount leader of the People's Republic of China
Xi Jinping

since 15 November 2012
Jade Spring Hill
NominatorCentral Committee of the Chinese Communist Party
Term lengthFive years, no term limit
PrecursorPresident of the Republic of China (Mainland China only)
Inaugural holderMao Zedong
Formation1 October 1949
Unofficial namesSupreme leader
Supreme leader
Simplified Chinese最高领导人
Traditional Chinese最高領導人
Literal meaningHighest Leader

There has been significant overlap between paramount leader status and leadership core status, with a majority but not all of paramount leaders being also leadership cores, though they are separate concepts. The term has been used less frequently to describe Deng's successors, Jiang Zemin, Hu Jintao and Xi Jinping, who have all formally held the offices of General Secretary of the Chinese Communist Party (Party leader), President of the People's Republic of China (figurehead) and Chairman of the Central Military Commission. Jiang, Hu and Xi are therefore usually referred to as president in the international scene, the title used by most other republican heads of state. However, Deng's successors derive their real power from the post of General Secretary, which is the primary position in the Chinese power structure[4] and generally regarded by scholars as the post whose holder can be considered paramount leader.[5]

The President is a largely ceremonial office according to the Constitution,[note 1] and a 2019 report by the United States-China Economic and Security Review Commission, a bipartisan commission within the United States Congress, recommends that the Chinese leader Xi Jinping be called "General Secretary" rather than "President", arguing that the title "president" incorrectly implies that the Chinese leader is democratically elected.[7] In August 2020, American lawmakers have introduced a bill to change the way the federal government refers to the general secretary of the CCP, prohibiting the use of the term "president".[8]

The current paramount leader, Xi Jinping, is considered to have become paramount leader in November 2012, when he became CCP General Secretary,[9] rather than in March 2013 when he succeeded Hu Jintao as president.[10] The position of General Secretary is the highest authority leading China's National People's Congress, State Council, Political Consultative Conference, Supreme People's Court and Supreme People's Procuratorate in Xi Jinping's administration.