Xi Jinping Thought, Theory or Concept? The congress will elevate Xi Jinping’s ‘important series of speeches’ into the Communist Party’s guiding canon of Marxist-Leninism, Mao Zedong Thought, Deng Xiaoping Theory, the Three Represents (of Jiang Zemin) and the Scientific Outlook on Development (of Hu Jintao).
The content is less important than the title (‘Thought’ puts Xi on the level of Mao, ‘Theory’ equates him to Deng – we expect ‘Thought’). It underlines how powerful Xi has become and that we can expect Party policy to be Xi policy.
Economic development. This section was noticeably shorter in the 18th Congress Report than in those of the 16th and 17th Congresses. That may have been because there was no agreement on some major issues. We may well find a longer exposition this time, as Xi sets out a determination to implement the following reforms:
- Supply side reform (eliminating excess capacity, reducing excess housing stocks).
- Deleveraging (that is, dealing with debt), reducing costs, strengthening weak points.
- State-owned enterprise reform.
- Debt and financial reform.
- ‘Made in China 2025’.
- Reducing government interference/approvals/ authorisations and helping the private sector.
- The Belt and Road Initiative and foreign investment.
- Agriculture and rural issues.
- Innovation and employment.
Political development. This is not to be confused with political reform as we in the West understand it. The Xi era’s tightening of political control will continue. Rhetoric on ‘intra-Party democracy’ and ‘Socialist Consultative Democracy’ does not imply otherwise.
In line with the Xi’s formulation of the ‘Four Comprehensives’, we can expect paragraphs on the importance of law-based governance and judicial reform. Making government more streamlined and better at serving the people is another favourite. Surprises are unlikely.
A more open assertion of the intention to ‘safeguard China’s maritime rights and interests, and build China into a maritime power’ is also likely
Social development. Poverty alleviation has long been a top political priority for Xi. He sees the achievement of a ‘moderately prosperous society’ by 2020 as essential to preserving popular support for the Party, so health reforms and employment may loom large in this section.
Environment. This has been one of Xi’s big three themes of late. Along with food safety it is vital for ensuring the continued support of the burgeoning middle classes.
National defence. We can expect a more assertive stance, echoing Xi’s theme that ‘China is not just a rich country, but a strong country’. The task of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) will almost certainly be defined more ambitiously than in the 18th Congress’ Report’s ‘to win a local war in an information age’. The word ‘local’ may well be omitted.
A more open assertion of the intention to ‘safeguard China’s maritime rights and interests, and build China into a maritime power’ is also likely. In the 18th Congress Report, this phrase was hidden away in the earlier ecology section in a paragraph on ‘improving the development of China’s geographical space’, an attempt perhaps to avoid scaring the ASEAN horses. If it was such, it failed. Five years on, Xi may no longer see the need to be coy.
He is also likely to try to reassure by putting more emphasis than the single sentence of Hu on participation in UN peacekeeping and a greater role in global security.
There is likely to be an expression of determination to take forward the third leg of Xi’s reform programme, that of the PLA.
Hong Kong. By word or by tone, the message is likely to be harder than before: those opposing China, as well as ‘foreign forces’, must back off. Taiwan. This section of the Report may well be harder hitting than before.
International relations. Party and government reports do not usually put great emphasis on foreign relations, but as the domestic agenda increasingly requires China to ‘go global’, this is changing.
The message to the Party and Chinese people is that China is now taking its rightful place in the governance of the world
Unsurprisingly in an era of ‘economic globalisation’, climate change and the Belt and Road Initiative, this is an area where there is likely to see more specific content than the generalities of peace and development, which formed the mainstay of earlier reports.
The message to the Party and Chinese people is that China is now taking its rightful place in the governance of the world. To foreign countries, the message is that China wants a ‘community of common destiny’ (this favourite phrase, which appeared in the Taiwan and international relations sections of the 18th Congress report, may be part of the title of this section).
Belt and Road, one of Xi’s signature policies, may appear not just in this section, but also under ‘economic development’.
Party building, corruption and discipline. Xi will undoubtedly recommit to the war on corruption and imposition of strict discipline on officials. Unlike past leaders’ campaigns, this one will not end in the foreseeable future.
The 19th Party Congress is likely to see Xi’s chosen men dominate the leadership. Policy will be carved in Xi’s image
Overall implications for the next five years. One aim of the Report aims is to show the people that it is right to entrust governance to a single party. Most Chinese buy that line: under the Party, prosperity has increased and China is internationally respected. They are less persuaded by the claim that the Party rules in their, rather than its own, interests. A lack of trust could be a worry if economic or environmental factors set back further progress towards prosperity.
The 19th Party Congress is likely to see Xi’s chosen men dominate the leadership. Policy will be carved in Xi’s image. Domestically, that means tighter control and repression, less risks in pushing forward reform for fear of causing instability. Internationally, there is likely to be greater assertiveness, even aggression, in defence, security, international relations and China’s ‘core interests’ (including Hong Kong and Taiwan).
Banner image: Will Chinese President Xi Jinping join the ‘Greats’ of Marxist-Leninism: Mao Zedong, Deng Xiaoping, Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao?
Charles Parton worked as a diplomat in both the British and EU services, spending much of his career in China. Since retirement, he has set up his own consultancy, China Ink, as well as being London Director of China Policy and Special Adviser on China to the House of Commons Select Committee. He is shortly to return to Beijing as Internal Political Adviser to the British Embassy.
A fuller version of this piece has been published on the SOAS China Institute Bulletin
The views expressed in this Commentary are the author’s, and do not reflect those of RUSI or any other institution.