China’s leader, Xi Jinping, abruptly summoned hundreds of officials to Beijing recently, forcing some to reschedule long-planned local assemblies. The meeting seemed orchestrated to convey anxious urgency. The Communist Party, Mr. Xi told the officials, faces major risks on all fronts and must batten down the hatches.
Whether dealing with foreign policy, trade, unemployment, or property prices, he declared, officials would be held responsible if they slipped up and let dangers spiral into real threats.
“Globally, sources of turmoil and points of risk are multiplying,” he told the gathering in January at the Central Party School. At home, he added, “the party is at risk from indolence, incompetence and of becoming divorced from the public.”
The speech was one of Mr. Xi’s starkest warnings since he came to power in 2012, and has been echoed at hundreds of local party meetings nationwide.
It underscores how slowing growth and China’s grinding trade fight with the United States have magnified the party leadership’s chronic fears of social unrest. Trade talks in Washington between American and Chinese officials ended last week without an official agreement, although President Trump delayed a deadline to increase tariffs on Chinese goods, saying that negotiators were making progress.
“Beijing is confronting significant pressure from the international community over its political and business practices that only adds to its difficulties in dealing with its domestic issues,” said Elizabeth C. Economy, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York who wrote “The Third Revolution,” a study of Mr. Xi.
There are no political challengers on the horizon who could pose an immediate threat to the Communist Party or Mr. Xi. But his remarks made clear that especially in 2019 — a year of politically sensitive anniversaries — the party would aggressively extinguish sparks that could ignite protests and turbulence.
A year ago, Mr. Xi triumphed at China’s national legislature, abolishing a term limit on his presidency, opening the way for another decade or longer as both president and party leader, and shaking up the government to become a more compliant tool of party power.
A year on, though, Mr. Xi’s speech and other official warnings show that triumphalism has receded. Mr. Xi also appeared keen to signal that if anything goes wrong, other officials will also shoulder responsibility, said several experts.