The first Plenum of the 20th CPC Central Committee was held on October 23rd, after the 7-day 20th Congress of the Communist Party of China in October. In the Plenum, the Secretary General of the CPC Central Committee, the Politburo and its Standing Committee were elected. The obvious happened. Xi Jinping’s intent to continue at the helm of the CPC was clear from the time, the age limit of 65 years was relaxed and the constitutional provision for limiting the term of the office of PRC Chairman was abolished. Although Xi’s supremacy was never challenged throughout the conference, it was announced on October 23 that he was elected General Secretary of the CPC Central Committee for the next five years.
From the deliberations in the 20th Congress and subsequent developments, it does not require any conjecturing that Xi Jinping would be able to combine the two highest positions in the Party and the state. Xi ensured his control by keeping loyalists in the Politburo and its Standing Committee. Li Qiang, the 63-year-old Secretary of the Shanghai Party Committee, known for his allegiance to Xi was appointed “second in command” and Party Secretary of the Chinese State Council. The Politburo Standing Committee, the CPC’s highest body which consisted of seven members in recent years, was also filled up with Xi’s loyalists. There was an overwhelmingly positive assessment of the past ten years under his leadership, especially the anti-corruption campaign, poverty elimination as well as the value, necessity and virtues of the dynamic Zero Covid Policy. The work report’s title “holding high the great banner of socialism with Chinese characteristics and striving in unity to build a modern socialist country in all respects” itself was telling. It indicates that in the next five years, like the past, China would have regard for local specifics (large population and poverty) and traditions (including Confucianism and revolutionary practices) in its version of socialism and modernisation. One could read sinicization as an underlying agenda in the garb of emphasis on traditions.
From the work report of Xi Jinping, it was evident that there were no fundamental changes in the vision for the next five years. The Congress confirmed the course of holding to the policies pursued over the past ten years. In his address to the Congress, it became clear that the current leadership is abandoning its previous fixation on market and high rates of economic growth in favour of focus on social development. The underestimated areas of social welfare in previous decades including healthcare, the pension system and insurance would be given a higher priority benefitting the individuals who are “cornerstone of China’s development concept.”
The new government would carry forward the new childbearing policy, whereby a married couple can have three children. This is meant to address the demographic crisis caused by a long-time policy of birth control. Xi once again reiterated his adherence to the principle of “One China” and warned against attempts to declare Taiwan’s independence as well as interference of external forces. Security would remain top priority as per the report, “China is entering a period of development, simultaneously abounding in strategic changes, risks and challenges, with uncertain and hard-to-predict factors being on a steep rise, while events labelled as “black swan” and “gray rheno” can occur at any time.” This indicates that Xi foresees in his third term that China would be facing the most serious geopolitical and other challenges in the next five years.
Another goal that came out from the report was Xi’s agenda that there should emerge a “silent China” marked by both absence of threats within the country and China’s rightful place on the global stage to ensure stable sovereign development. Meanwhile, China’s economy is faltering. Unemployment is skyrocketing. Endless Covid lockdowns are wreaking havoc on businesses and people’s lives. The property sector is in crisis. Ties between Beijing and major global powers are under strain. The list of problems faced by the world’s second-largest economy goes on – and many of those long-term challenges have only worsened under a decade of Xi Jinping’s rule. Yet the Chinese leader’s grip on power is unwavering. While Xi’s speech declared economic development to be his “top priority,” there was no sign that he is aiming to improve the deep problems that have undermined China’s economy over the past two years. He gave no hint on the zero-COVID policies that have reduced domestic consumption and destroyed small businesses. Moreover, Xi ignored the “dual circulation” policy and “self-reliance in his speech which could ignite domestic demand-driven growth and higher technology-driven productivity. It would result in failure to revitalize the economy and ultimately undercut Xi’s lofty goal of “common prosperity.” Domestically, China’s leaders know they are facing formidable headwinds. The Chinese government had “made a lot of mistakes in the last five years with its economy.” From the epidemic prevention policies to the idea that ‘state enterprises advance, the private sectors retreat’, and the suppression of the tech industry, China faces a once-in-a-generation economic challenge and CCP’s decisions will significantly shape the lives of the country’s 1.4 billion people. Economists have warned that reversing market-style reform could hamper the country’s growth.