The upcoming 19th congress of the Communist Party of China will reveal Xi Jinping’s team for implementing his vision for China in the next five to 10 years (some say 15). The present team, the seven members of the standing committee of the political bureau and the political bureau itself were not completely of his own making.
With the declaration naming him the core leader of the party in a previous Central Committee meeting – a title only Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping had gained – Xi has gained full authority to form his own team this time. In view of the task he set for himself and the country, he is almost certain to break the two-term and age-limit rules for top leaders, which the party introduced in the late 1980s.
Xi has wasted no time in the last five years to push forward his programme, strategy and tactics for the next phase of China’s development. The two centennial goals Xi introduced, achieving a middle-income society by the year 2021, the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Communist Party, and the “Great Revival of the Chinese People” in the year 2049, the 100th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China, set forth a clear political programme for the country for the next 30 years or so.
No political party anywhere in the world has ever done anything even close to this. These are not empty words – at least for the first and immediate goal. He has set out to eliminate poverty in the whole country by 2021. Even though the poverty standard was set at a relatively low level, it is still a daunting task to bring the remaining 30 million people out of poverty in the coming four years. Judging by the progress so far, the goal is likely to be achieved.
Xi’s second goal, rising above the American dream of 40 acres and a mule, makes the Chinese dream a collective goal, calling for the “Great Revival of the Chinese People” by 2049. It is important to note that the goal did not specify the revival of the Chinese state but its “people”. China is already one of the top two economies in world. This goal is obviously not limited to state power, or economic and military strength. Most importantly, it calls for the revival of Chinese culture and civilisation, a significant change since the Communists took over China. Since 1949, they have had a hard time fusing a Western ideology and Marxism with the indigenous culture. The eruption of the Cultural Revolution was a reflection of this struggle.
Now Xi calls for an integration of the two. Though he has reaffirmed Chinese culture, Xi seeks also to discard the bad parts while retaining the good ones. The “core values campaign”, which mixes traditional values and modern ones, is a telling illustration of this move. To the West, the Chinese offer of an alternative value system – collectivism instead of individualism, harmony instead of confrontational competition, coexistence instead of domination – poses an even bigger challenge than China’s economic and military might. The heated debate over the “China model” reflects this sensitivity.
Xi approaches his goal methodically. In line with Chinese political reality, his first move is to shape up and clean up the party, the professional core responsible for running the country. The military is the first target. Many interpret this as another internal power struggle. This misses the point. Vast personnel changes are definitely one consequence. But if Xi did not deal with the corruption in the party, which is rampart due to the liberalisation of the economy in the last 30 years, and rebuild its core values, there would be no way he could deliver his goal. It cannot be denied that this shuffling also gives him the chance to put in the right people for the job he wants to do. Remaking the Communist Party as a fighting machine lies at the core of Xi’s strategic moves.
As for the larger public, Xi tries to shift away from a purely GDP-focused yardstick of national development, to more comprehensive measures including those on the environment, social equality and better governance. The goal to eliminate extreme poverty is at the heart of this effort. These goals received wide support even though their implementation is not as straightforward as one might wish. For example, gross domestic product is still widely seen as the yardstick for measuring a local cadre’s success or failure.
As for external relations, the Belt and Road Initiative is a master stroke in building China’s international standing. It is a further development of its traditional five principles of foreign relations, stressing coexistence and non-interference in other countries internal affairs. The call for mutual benefits, mutual effort and mutual consultation is a refreshing departure from the old norm of foreign aid patterned on the West.
Xi, in his first five years, has laid out his programme, strategy and tactics for the deployment of China and its relations with the world. The upcoming party congress will give him the team to implement his master plan. The congress is not only a significant event for China, it might also be a landmark in world politics.
Shiu Sin Por is a former head of the Hong Kong government’s Central Policy Unit and is currently a member of the National Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference