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Monday Morning Meeting on "20th National Congress of the Communist Party of China: A Preliminary Assessment”

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  • October 10, 2022
    Monday Morning Meeting
    Only by Invitation
    1000 hrs

    Dr. Prashant Kumar Singh, Associate Fellow, Manohar Parrikar Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (MP-IDSA), spoke on "20th National Congress of the Communist Party of China: A Preliminary Assessment” at the Monday Morning Meeting held on 10 October 2022. The session was moderated by Dr. M. S. Prathibha, Associate Fellow. Ambassador Sujan R. Chinoy, Director General, MP-IDSA, offered his insightful comments. Scholars of the Institute were in attendance.

    Executive Summary

    The 20th Party Congress is one of the most anticipated events in China and the rest of the world. Xi Jinping is expected to begin his third term following the 20th Party Congress, to be held on 16 October 2022. Over the years, Xi has carefully redefined the ideological fabric of China and has re-engineeredChineseness’. His success in abolition of absolute poverty in China and several anti-corruption campaigns have not only aided in restoring the party's credibility but have also made Xi Jinping a popular figure in China. As the 20th Party Congress draws closer, there are various tasks set for Xi. Along with the tasks, both Xi and China, face several challenges. Nevertheless, it can be said with certainty that Xi's third term would be critical.

    Detailed Report

    Dr. Prathibha commenced the Monday Morning Meeting by stating that the 20th Party Congress is one of the most anticipated events in China, the United States, and the rest of the world. She emphasised that China is facing numerous external and internal challenges. Internally, there is growing agreement that Xi Jinping has failed in restructuring China's economy. Furthermore, there are numerous issues arising from COVID shutdowns and their impact on the domestic industry. Externally, a number of events appear to have an impact on China's relationship with the rest of the world, including Xi's close relationship with Putin and the impact of the Ukraine-Russia war on China's foreign relations, as well as recent events surrounding Taiwan. As a result, the 20th Party Congress must unpack several complexities.

    Dr. Prashant Singh was given the floor by the moderator after the brief introduction.

    The Speaker stated that the 20th Party Congress will be held on 16 October 2022. He began by exploring the National Party Congress' (NPC) organisational structure and functions. He asserted that the Communist Party operates under the Democratic Centralism Principle. According to the speaker, the NPC together with the Party's Central Committee, is the Supreme Body. The functions and powers of the NPC are defined in Article 19 of the Communist Party of China's Constitution. Here, Dr. Kumar, highlighted that the NPC has the power to revise the Constitution. The Central Committee, created by the National Congress, represents the party and carries out the party’s work. Once the NPC is convened, the Central Committee is elected, and the Central Committee establishes a Politburo and Politburo Standing Committee, together they serve for five years before being re-elected. The NPC is normally held once every five years. Dr. Singh went on to state that the Standing Committee is the locus of power in China.

    Moving further, the speaker discussed Xi Jinping’s rise to power. According to him, Xi first appeared on the national scene in 1997, when he was appointed as an alternate member of the 15th Central Committee of the Communist Party of China (CPC). He went on to say that Xi truly broke onto the national scene in 2002, when he was elected to the 16th CPC Central Committee and became the Zhejiang Province Party Secretary. At this point, Dr. Singh pointed out that being an astute politician, Xi didn’t reveal himself prematurely.

    In 2012, Xi Jinping forced Hu Jintao to step down from all positions – Party General Secretary, President of PRC, and Chairman of Central Military Commission (CMC), unlike Jiang Zemin who held that position for two more years after his stepping down from the post of Party General Secretary in 2002. In April 2016, he was named Commander-in-Chief of the CMC Joint Operations Centre. The same year, he was given the 'Party Core' title. Dr. Singh observed that Xi has engaged in power consolidation and centralisation throughout his rise to power. In terms of consolidation, the speaker pointed out that Xi has been hesitant to name a successor. He has also centralised power by forming sub-groups, transforming them into commissions, and serving as their Director. From 2013 to 2017, Xi was the Director of all commissions established during his term. Dr. Singh observed that the majority of these commissions were concerned with national security.

    Dr. Singh went on to say that Xi has carefully redefined the ideological fabric of China. He has re-engineered ‘Chineseness’. Elaborating on this, the speaker stated that, under Xi, the Communist Party has become synonymous with the Chinese nation. Every liberal idea is being fiercely rejected by the Party. Discussions on gradualism have been brought to a close. Xi is redefining the pursuit of a Fuqiang China, or a prosperous and powerful China. Chinese exceptionalism is emerging. Under Xi, China has strived to export its values that put premium on the capacity to deliver. China, under Xi Jinping, is claiming what it perceives to be its rightful place in the international order. The speaker asserted that Xi has, for the most part, been successful in his pursuits.

    Speaking on the core socialist values of the CPC, the speaker noted that socialist values have found mention in the 17th and 18th Party Congress Reports. He asserted that these core values such as - prosperity, democracy, harmony, freedom, justice, patriotism, integrity, etc. – are building blocks of a new ideology. These values are being disseminated through extensive propaganda, school curriculums, mass events, cultural events, celebrations, etc.

    Dr. Kumar commented on the perils of Xi's re-engineering which include:

    • Intensified authoritarianism
    • Rise of a national security state
    • Fears of a totalitarian slide in China
    • Discarding of liberal perspectives of freedom, rights and dissent
    • Increased pressure of assimilation on the ethnic minorities

    The lack of any serious political challenges to Xi Jinping was also a prominent aspect of the discussion.

    Talking about why Xi Jinping is so popular, the speaker said that while the pandemic and targeting giant private sector companies has created problems for China, the successful abolition of absolute poverty in China remains Xi’s prime contribution. He claims that Xi and the party are popular in China because of the combination of basic socialist stability, cultural nationalism, and great power projection. Furthermore, anti-corruption campaigns have aided in restoring the party's credibility.  

    The speaker said that Chinese people genuinely believe that America and its policies are unfair to China. He emphasised that Xi's policies are seen as countering America’s anti-China policies and projecting China's status to the rest of the world.

    In the final segment, Dr Singh spoke on Xi in the 20th CPC. The possibility of reintroducing the 'Chairman' title for Xi was discussed. The speaker was of the view that Xi Jinping may not be considered as powerful as Mao and Deng Xiaoping.

    Dr. Singh mentioned names of CPC members who were most likely to stay for another decade when speaking about CPC restructuring. He also noted that the induction to CPC will be done in a manner that doesn’t reveal Xi’s successor.

    As the presentation drew to a close, the post 20th CPC direction and upcoming tasks were covered, before moving to the challenges to China and Xi Jinping. The following direction and upcoming tasks were mentioned by the speaker:

    • Re-energising the economy
    • Emphasis on dual-circulation within the economy with a view to insulate the domestic market from external disturbances
    • Greater state control in the economy
    • Exit from the zero COVID Policy
    • Dealing with the real estate and banking crisis
    • Reinforcing BRI

    Dr. Singh mentioned several challenges that China presently faces in the foreign policy domain. These are:

    • Winning trust and revitalising Chinese diplomacy
    • Salvaging relations with USA
    • Decoupling the economy from the USA.
    • Addressing the Russian dilemma
    • Rebuilding bridges with Europe

    He pointed out that not just China, but Xi also faces challenges. The superrich and the politicians below him may present some challenges to him. In this regard, Dr. Singh stated that Xi's third term would be critical because the second-tier leadership would be more anxious for promotional avenues.

    Dr. Singh concluded his remarks by stating that the paradox of confidence and paranoia with increased caution will continue in China.

    After the speaker finished his presentation, the moderator thanked him for his insightful remarks and opened the floor for questions and comments.

    Key Takeaways from the Q&A Session

    The question-and-answer session brought to light many viewpoints based on a thorough assessment of the matter presented during the discussion. A few of key points raised during the session are as below:

    • Ways to reconcile the contradiction between China’s pursuit of a new ideology and Chinese traditional culture were explored.
    • Possibility of succeeding in transitioning into a consumption-based economy was discussed.
    • China’s influence in Central Asia was discussed.
    • Increasing securitisation of Taiwan and its role in becoming an impediment in revitalising Chinese diplomacy was discussed.
    • Xi's purge of the former military-industry chiefs was discussed.
    • Re-framing of relations between the CPC and the state and how successful it has been was deliberated on.

    The Report has been prepared by Ms. Esha Banerjee, Intern, East Asia Centre.