At Party Congress Xi Jinping Says China Will Lead
At the just completed 19th Party Congress (held once every five years), Chinese Communist Party leader Xi Jinping laid out in an opening three and a half hour peroration his thinking on virtually every element of Chinese society.
Entitled “Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era” (quickly contracted into “New Era”), Xi spoke of becoming a global leader in innovation by 2035 with “rule of law” in place and much enhanced global “soft power.” In the ensuing 15 years until 2050, China will become “prosperous, strong, democratic, culturally advanced, harmonious, and beautiful.” All will be done under the continued dominance of the 89-million-strong Communist Party.
Xi said China will lead in every sector: economic; environmental; and military.
There was no indication of “give” in foreign policy. Xi took a tougher line on Taiwan and showed no interest in negotiation to demilitarize its South China Sea island fortifications. He seems to have concluded and internalized that the United States is in retreat in global economic terms and specifically for East Asian geographic challenges.
Nevertheless, Xi emphasized that reaching these objectives “will be no walk in the park” with nothing more required than “drum-beating and gong-clanging.” Rather every party member “must be prepared to work even harder toward this goal.” Reviving and sustaining a revolutionary attitude, 95 years after the first Party Congress in 1921 will be a challenge necessitating more than a mind-numbing speech.
In this regard, the optics of the 19th Party Congress with 2,200 members present for Xi’s speech had their own points of interest. Two of his immediate predecessors (Hu Jintao and Jiang Zemin) were present; presumably co-opted if not particularly enthusiastic to hear their ideological thinking being subsumed. And a scan of the audience showed relentless row after row of men in black suits and white shirts with only the (very) occasional woman in red. No “Mao suits” to be seen anywhere.
Xi and his supporters appear to be angling to have his “New Era” adopted as an element of the party constitution as “Xi Jinping Thought.” This would place Xi’s personal ideological offerings on a par with those of Mao Zedong, giving them special weight and merit indefinitely. In contrast, Deng Xiaoping’s intellectual contribution of “socialism with Chinese characteristics” is “theory” and Jiang Zemin’s “thought” of “Three Represents” is lower on the totem pole of ideological status.
While such ideological nuance might not engage the average Chinese citizen, Xi has acted during his first five years to gather support for future moves. Although now slowing, the Chinese economy has remained very strong in both regional and global terms. It has provided countless millions of jobs and, consequently, a level of personal comfort for hundreds of millions. Such wealth is still substantially out of reach for rural masses, but now characterizes China’s massive middle class.
Xi has also relentlessly pursued corruption. To an extent this has been an objective designed to reinforce his personal power base rather than from any abstract commitment to fiscal purity. But one presumes the number of party bureaucrats wearing Rolex watches and/or with offspring driving expensive automobiles has distinctly declined.
Both continuing objectives are existentially popular: Chinese living under the Chinese Communist Party are pleased to have a strong leader who delivers prosperity and attacks corruption.
It is also useful to recall that Xi has no carping domestic constituency regarding his handling of foreign affairs. Chinese school children for multiple generations have been educated to believe Tibet is Chinese. That South Pacific Islands are Chinese (“stolen” from China when it was weak). And Taiwan, regardless of its current status, is also Chinese. Thus Xi—or any Chinese leader—can blow off any and every combination of international court ruling, United Nations resolution, and/or diplomatic demarche.
We now have China in the bull’s shop.
David T. Jones is a retired U.S. State Department senior foreign service career officer who has published several hundred books, articles, columns, and reviews on U.S.–Canadian bilateral issues and general foreign policy. During a career that spanned over 30 years, he concentrated on politico-military issues, serving as adviser for two Army chiefs of staff. Among his books is “Alternative North Americas: What Canada and the United States Can Learn from Each Other.”