Chinese President Xi Jinping has explained, in a sense, that he believes the world order has already changed.
The National Party Congress of the Communist Party of China began with Xi Jinping’s assertive speech about his vision for the country and the future trajectory of the party’s policies. This Congress will sit for one week and take important decisions about the portfolios of the Communist Party Members along with choosing a new Premier of the Communist Party of China as Li Keqiang completes his tenure as the head of the government.
However, one of the main reasons why this party Congress holds prominence for the Chinese people as well as the watchers all over the world is because the Head of the State and the General Secretary of the Communist party of China, Xi Jinping, is expected to hold on to his office for an unprecedented third consecutive term. This particular development will make Xi Jinping arguably the most influential and significant party leader after Mao Zedong. It was in 2018 that the constitutional amendments were made that gave Xi Jinping the access to an unchecked and unlimited term in office representing the Communist Party of China. As the world watches the changes in the offices and party leaderships, possibly the third consecutive term of Xi Jinping will consolidate China’s ambitious internal and external policies even further.
Now, before reading between the lines of Xi Jinping’s address to the National Party Congress, it is important to take a look at the structure of the Chinese governance and understand the reason as to why Jinping’s position in the party puts him at the helm of China’s decision making infrastructure.
China’s Political Structure
Xi Jinping is the incumbent General Secretary of the Communist Party of China and in this capacity, the President of the People’s Republic of China. The Communist Party is at the centre of Chinese politics and governance. The party is responsible for controlling every branch of the government and hence the leader of this party presides over all of the central executive functions. As the Secretary General, Xi Jinping thus occupies an important position when it comes to taking central decisions for the party as well as the country. The next important political body is the Politburo. Now one could think of it as a special body of about twenty five members who are, in practice, incharge of deliberating upon important party decisions. Within this Politburo, exists another body - the Politburo Standing Committee. Now this Standing Committee just consists of seven members who together form a coalition of the most powerful politicians within the country. This way they could be termed as forming the 'political bureau' within the Politburo itself. It would not be wrong to suggest that the majority of the decision making powers are consolidated in the hands of these seven Standing Committee members.
Apart from these structures, there is also a State Council that is another major arm of the Chinese government. This council is a part of the National Congress as well and it presides over all the functioning departments of the government. To put it in context, it somewhat resembles the cabinet ministers where each minister heads up one department or 'ministry'. The head of this State Council is called the Premier, he is also the head of the government. The Premier at present is Li Kequiang who is set to retire after this term and the sitting of the People’s Congress is tasked with deciding his successor as the Communist Party Premier. The Premier would also be a part of the Politburo Standing Committee.
Now, coming to the National People’s Congress which has occupied the attention of the world at present. This is a major part of the Chinese governance system. The Congress consists of about 3,000 delegates and their work is to oversee the government functioning as well as form and amend laws. It is not an understatement to suggest that even though all the Congress members are not part of the Communist Party, the Congress is still heavily dominated by the Communist Party and hence the delegation of 3,000 gets overshadowed by the Communist Party Members.
Now, at present this Party Congress is meeting to decide the fate of the Chinese government. Held every five years, it will also establish the groundwork for the major policy changes in the future.
Address to the Party Congress
The opening address of Xi Jinping to the National Party Congress was loaded with praises to Chinese resolve and integrity in the face of grave opposition from the major world powers. The idea was to establish China as the 'dragon' that it embodies and its role in reversing the strategic status quo of world politics. Although it was important to reiterate the strong domestic and foreign policy ambitions, one could see that no radical or drastic policy shifts were highlighted in the speech. As Xi Jinping noted, there were three major events in the last decade that have greatly shaped the Chinese economic, military and domestic political agenda:
- the centenary of the Chinese Communist Party was a major event in Xi’s political office as the President and it was portrayed as the testament to the Chinese resolve. The Communist Party survived the test of time to complete a century in power.
- the second important aspect was the challenge of the global pandemic. The pandemic had brought about an economic downturn globally and China has left no stones unturned in portraying itself as emerging victorious against this challenge. The economic recovery made in dealing with the slowdown brought about by Covid was termed as an important achievement of China under Xi Jinping. The 'zero Covid' policy was further consolidated with a focus on stricter measures in place over testing, international border restrictions as well as mandatory quarantines.
- the third major event that influenced the Chinese political trajectory was the challenge posed by International actors. It seems that the Chinese national resolve keeps on strengthening in the face of growing international opposition and foreign interference in the issues of Chinese national integrity, whether it be the issue of human rights abuses on the Uyghur Muslims or the problem of self determination of Taiwan.
Now highlighting these three major events over the past decade has also served as a justification of a stronger and more assertive Chinese position in the international security arena as well. This address to the Congress also consisted of touching upon issues of National and International importance to China. The highlight of the speech was the strong focus on the Taiwan issue, Xi Jinping took a very firm approach to Taiwan and this is a development watch out for very closely.
The Taiwan Question
China and Taiwan relations have been mired in conflict of identity and self-determination for decades. The controversial One Country, Two Systems policy at the centre of this conflict was further reiterated in Xi’s address to not just the Party Congress but also directed to the world. As the tensions rise with the Ukraine conflict and China’s support to the aggressive approach of Russia in Ukraine, China itself has reserved the option of forceful recourse on provocation over the Taiwan issue. Citing the example of Hong Kong, Xi Jinping noted how Hong Kong has moved from a chaotic state to “calmness” as it adheres to the One Country Two Systems within China. The same could be true for Taiwan and China has made it very clear that it will not shy away from using military recourse if need be.
This speech of Xi Jinping stands different from the previous ones when it comes to the problem of Taiwan. It is interesting to note that Xi termed the Taiwanese aspirations of independence as 'separatism' in an attempt to rule out the possibility of foreign interference and reiterate the Taiwan question as a threat to national sovereignty and integrity. By taking a stronger stand on the question, the President has warned the whole world against provocation of any kind on Taiwan. This is in the context of the recent visit to Taiwan by the US Congress Speaker Nancy Pelosi and it gave room to China to increase the military build up along the strategic Taiwan Strait.
If the Chinese aggressive stand continues to grow even tighter, the world could witness another intense military engagement in East Asia. The partnership between China and Russia is important in this regard and it is important to note how Russia would respond to China’s military navigation towards Taipei especially after China’s support to Russia’s war in Ukraine. Since China maintains a no-first use nuclear policy, it is unlikely that the nuclear threat would exist in the event of a Chinese invasion of Taiwan, but Xi Jinping's ambitions for military modernisation is suggestive of greater aggression towards Taiwan. The reunification of Taiwan with China was emphasised a lot more crucially in Xi Jinping’s speech than ever before and this paves the way for the world to look out for the events happening in the region.
Xi Jinping also presides over the Central Military Commission and thus has direct control over the massive Chinese military which makes his offensive threats all the more real and consequential.
The India Snub
All said and done, Xi’s address seemed more focused on the conflict on the east than the one on the south. While the direct attention to the India-China border dispute and diplomatic tensions was not given in the speech, the greater commitment to forceful aggressive stands for national security can be understood with regards to the China-India tensions as well. It becomes all the more obvious while observing some subtle dynamics of the Party Congress. The image of the Galwan valley commander of the People’s Liberation Army, Qi Fabao, was selected among the 2,296 party members from all over the country to broadcast among images showcased before Xi Jinping's speech. This is a significant development when it comes to highlighting Chinese military propaganda and suggests that the dispute with India is still a part of Chinese foreign policy.
Another major aspect to consider is India’s relationship with Taiwan in the backdrop of an actively aggressive stand of China against Taiwan. In an attempt to build stronger bilateral relations with the east, India would be open to diversifying cooperation opportunities with Taiwan but this could have military and strategic implications for the conflict with China. Seeing the stricter approach of China over foreign engagement in Taiwan, it could view India’s strengthening relations with Taiwan as a threat to its own national security and sovereignty as well. How these events unfold, of course, remains to be seen.
What’s next for China under Xi?
A better part of the Chinese President’s address involved the vision for the future of China and the major policies that would be further introduced. As has been actively reiterated before, Xi Jinping aims towards building China into a strong modern socialist nation. One of the main visions for Xi’s China is creating a unified nationalist Chinese society that proves to be an asset for the Communist Party into realising its ambitions for the country. The focus was laid on the importance of economic modernisation and innovative self-reliance for China to become the economic giant that it seeks to be.
One prominent aspect of this innovative self-reliance is based on military modernisation. It does not come across as a surprise, considering China’s assertive military approach in the regional politics and territorial disputes as well. Now this goal of building military technology and intensifying military training may thus have far reaching consequences for China’s strategic presence in regional geopolitics. The aim, as laid out by Xi Jinping is to also develop innovative military strategies and long standing combat capabilities. It was very interesting to note that Xi Jinping reiterated the need for a stronger military for waging the 'people’s war'. One could only argue that terming the state sponsored ambitions as the 'people’s war' is a way to justify the recourse to force as well as creating a nationalistic fervour among the Chinese people.
Another important goal highlighted for China is to reach the target of complete Carbon Neutrality and the reduced levels of carbon emissions in the next four decades. The climate question occupies a central position in Xi Jinping’s policy and legacy. Over the years China has occupied the reduction in carbon emissions as one of the important policy goals and it would be interesting to note how Xi Jinping aims to reach the desired goals in the midst of a global energy crisis instigated by the war in Ukraine and the resulting economic downturn as well.
Decoding the Global Implications
Xi Jinping’s address to the National Party Congress was a direct warning to the international community against meddling with its own internal affairs. However, the Chinese ambitions exceed more than just to secure its national sovereignty. As has been the highlight of Xi Jinping’s radical approach to Chinese foreign policy, China aims to take its 'rightful' place as the custodian of civilisation superiority in the world. This ambition is beginning to unravel in drastic ways under Xi Jinping and hence he is often also likened with the father of Communist China, Mao Zedong.
Chinese economic ambitions are an open secret with China diversifying and spreading its global supply chains across continents and also attempting to build greater military influence over the South China Sea and the East China Sea region. Now this would mean that the global politics theatre would most likely shift from the West to the East. Xi’s address was proof that in the new term, under Xi Jinping, China would not hesitate from using drastic military means into getting its way. As the Chinese President reiterated the commitment to the foreign policy values of respecting national integrity, independence, and opposition to hegemony, it was clear that China itself would take a strict stand to protect these principles. These are essentially code words in a sense for Chinese revisionism which worries the world. The warnings to Taiwan is a testament to this fact. The international community needs to prioritise focus on strategies of dealing with China's ambitions and revisionism.
The China under the possible third term of Xi Jingping is likely to be all about consolidated hard power coupled with ever expanding economic might could serve to strengthen China’s resolve and ambitions even further. Xi has just told us that he believes that the world order has already changed.