(CNN)In March 2020, the annual meeting of China’s national legislature in Beijing was delayed for the first time in decades, as Chinese President Xi Jinping attempted to gain control over what would fast become a global pandemic.
One year on, the high-profile event is due to start on Friday, in line with pre-pandemic traditions, in an atmosphere of triumph for the Chinese Communist Party and Xi, who has emerged from the crisis more powerful than ever.
The coronavirus has mostly been brought under control inside China’s borders, while the country’s economy has rapidly rebounded from the damage dealt by the pandemic. China is expected to overtake the United States as the world’s largest economy in 2028, five years earlier than previously estimated. Xi’s success in handling the pandemic has demonstrated to the Party and any remaining critics that “even the pandemic couldn’t affect him,” said Steven Tsang, director of the SOAS China Institute.
Now Xi is working to cement his place in the pantheon of Chinese leaders ahead of the 100th anniversary of the Communist Party’s founding in July, experts said, looking to place himself alongside the founder of the People’s Republic of China — Mao Zedong. Xi’s initial 10-year term as general secretary of the Party ends in November 2022.
But at a time in China’s political calendar when a clear successor would usually be expected to emerge, Tsang said there is only one likely candidate for the Communist Party’s top job. “We know exactly who the successor to Xi Jinping is, it’s even clearer than ever,” said Tsang. “Xi Jinping.”