The plenary session agreed that the ‘major achievements’ of the Party and the country in the last five years are the result of the ‘strong leadership’ of the Party Central Committee with ‘Comrade Xi Jinping at its core’.
The 7th plenary session of the 19th Central Committee of the Communist Party of China (CPC) that concluded on 12 October issued a near 3,000-character communiqué, took stock of the achievements of the Party and the state in the past five years, discussed and adopted a report to be made by the 19th CPC Central Committee to the 20th CPC National Congress, a work report of the 19th CPC Central Commission for Discipline Inspection (CCDI) to the Congress, and an amendment to the CPC Constitution. The communiqué mentioned Xi Jinping 14 times, Xi at the core (核心) eight times, and Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era five times.
The plenary session summed up the work of the five years and agreed that the “major achievements” of the Party and the country in the five years are the result of the “strong leadership” （坚强领导）of the Party Central Committee with “Comrade Xi Jinping at its core” and the guidance of Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era. Eradication of absolute poverty (2020), completion of the historical task of building a moderately prosperous society in all respects (2021) and achieving the first centenary goal (2021) figured prominently. It was also emphasized that from here on, the CPC will embark on a new journey of building a modern socialist country (2035), and march toward the second centenary goal (2049), an agenda set by Xi Jinping during the 19th Party Congress. The principle of “people’s supremacy and the supremacy of life” (人民至上、生命至上) has been reiterated. It appears that the “dynamic zero Covid policy” will not be withdrawn immediately, even if the same has adversely impacted China’s economic growth.
This has set the ball rolling for the 20th Party Congress to be convened from 16 October and an unprecedented third and more terms for Xi Jinping. Three major areas where China watchers would be looking for clues, are where the Party, economy and foreign policy will be heading towards. In an “Expert Scholars’ Dialogue” on China’s 20th CPC National Congress organized by the ORCA on 11 October 2022 at India International Centre, this author in a dialogue with Dr Jagannath Panda of the International Security and Development Policy, Stockholm, had argued that the outcomes of the Party congress watched for would be: The “people’s leader” (人民领袖), “people’s economy” (人民经济), and “great power diplomacy” (大国外交).
As regards the “people’s leader”, the communiqué issued on 12 October makes it amply clear that it would be “banner and line” of Xi Jinping’s Thought all the way. This has been reinforced by laying emphasis on the “Two Establishes” (两个确立) and “Two Safeguards” (两个维护) and many other political slogans Xi has given in the last two terms and are mostly incorporated in the “Third Resolution.” “Two Establishes” refer to: 1) “To establish the status of Comrade Xi Jinping as the core of the Party’s Central Committee and of the whole Party”; and 2) “To establish the guiding role of Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for the New Era.” The “Two safeguards” are, “Safeguard the ‘core’ status of Xi Jinping within the CCP” and “To safeguard the centralized authority of the Party.” The sporadic outbursts such as “Sitong Bridge Incident” of 13 October in Beijing by a lone wolf to resist Xi’s third term may occur here and there, but Xi Jinping’s second decade has already been commenced by the communiqué.
For the execution of the “banner and line”, as could be gleaned from the recently revised regulations for cadre selection, Xi’s loyalists (习家军) from Fujian, Zhejiang, Shanghai, Party School, and Shanxi-Gansu-Ningxia, where he served in different capacities would be selected to the Central Committee, Politburo and Standing Committee of the Politburo. From Fujian alone, 6-7 people could be promoted, including two in the Central Military Commission. Xi’s emphasis that “no one would be allowed to change the colour of China’s mountain and rivers” is meant to warn his detractors, and that the “tigers and flies” campaign would continue, and that China will continue to adhere to the path, theory, system and culture with Chinese characteristics.
On the economic front, if the statistics are to be believed, China’s economic strength was catapulted from around $8.5 trillion to around $19 trillion ever since Xi Jinping took over the reins of the CPC in 2012. Per capita income doubled and urbanisation reached to around 65% in 2022. However, widening social inequalities are on the rise. Statistics reveal that the top 0.14% of households in China own around one-third of China’s wealth. Therefore, the main contradiction of “unbalanced and inadequate development and the people’s ever-growing needs for a better life” identified during the last congress will continue to dominate the discourse. Hence the emphasis on “common prosperity”, “inner circulation” and the “third distribution” etc., will continue to dominate the economic discourse in place of “economic reforms and opening up”, albeit the latter has figured once in the recently released communiqué of the 7th plenum.
Notwithstanding the cursory emphasis on “reform and opening up”, the era of laissez-faire growth is long over in China; the state-owned enterprises will further be enlarged and individual economy is expected to face a rough ride in the coming days. The situation is further exacerbated by the “Dynamic Covid Zero Policy”, “Bad finances of the local governments”, “China’s real estate bubble bust”, the RMB depreciation, as well as the West’s gradual decoupling from China, at least in the hi-tech domain. This would rock the boat of economic growth and the targets identified by scholars like Lin Yifu towards fulfilling the socialist modernization by 2035 could be an uphill task. It is perhaps after summing up the above political and economic undercurrents that scholars like Wen Tiejun have coined the “people’s economy” acronym that is oriented towards safeguarding sovereignty, independent development and the patriotic nature of the Chinese economy.
As far as the “Great power diplomacy” is concerned, the larger framework of “two central pillars”, i.e. “to build a community with a shared future for mankind” and “a new type of international relations” will remain in place. While the former will further incorporate Xi Jinping’s “Global Development Initiative” and “Global Security Initiative” as two of its flanks, the latter will also have the “Major Country Relationship” and diplomacy with the BRI or developing countries. Since the path, the theory, the system emphasised by the CPC has given rise to distrust between China and the West, the ideological confrontation demonstrated by reconfiguration of forces in the so called democratic and authoritarian camps will witness intensification. This has been clearly spelled out in a section entitled “The nature of the competition between democracies and autocracies” in a recently released “National Security Strategy” of the US, where the PRC has been pronounced as “the only competitor with both the intent to reshape the international order and, increasingly, the economic, diplomatic, military, and technological power to advance that objective”. Hong Kong, according to the communiqué, “has achieved a major transition from chaos to governance”; it has to be seen, how the “Fujian clique” in the CMC and Eastern Theatre Command will respond to the Taiwan question, which like the previous Party reports will figure prominently in the 20th Party Congress as well.
B.R. Deepak is Professor, Center of Chinese and Southeast Asian Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.