Since Mr. Xi, 65, abolished the term limit on his presidency last year, murmurs of discontent have risen among academics, businesspeople and former officials, despite censorship and the security police.
Chinese leaders’ worries have been magnified by what party journals warn is an increasingly hostile bloc of Western governments, led by the United States, that have pushed back against Chinese high-tech acquisitions, propaganda influence and the mass detentions in Xinjiang.
This year especially, Chinese officials worry that sensitive anniversaries could act as kindling, according to directives issued by local governments. It is 30 years since student protests for democratic change filled Beijing and other Chinese cities, ending in a bloody armed crackdown around Tiananmen Square that began late on June 3, 1989.
It is also 100 years since the watershed “May 4” patriotic student protests of 1919, 60 years since a failed uprising against Chinese rule in Tibet and 10 years since ethnic riots killed hundreds in Xinjiang, the western region where hundreds of thousands of Uighur Muslims have been detained in indoctrination camps.
The government is also preparing grand celebrations in October to commemorate 70 years since Mao founded the People’s Republic of China.
Since the January meeting, provinces, cities and towns have rolled out or freshened up plans to monitor and contain dangers. Officials from Hunan Province, for example, vowed to beat back debt owed by state-linked companies. Liu Jiayi, the party chief of Shandong Province in the east, also called for dealing with discontented former soldiers demanding better welfare.
Local governments have warned the police to redouble their vigilance against protests ahead of the “sensitive anniversary dates.” Small protests by Marxist students supporting striking workers in 2018 already resulted in detentions and warnings on university campuses in Beijing.
“Prevent social and economic risks evolving into political risks,” Chen Yixin, the secretary-general of the party’s law and order committee, said late last month. With the internet, he said, “a small incident can form into a vortex of public opinion.”