What Xi’s report to the 19th Party Congress tells us about a more assertive China

What Xi’s report to the 19th Party Congress tells us about a more assertive China

Xi’s report to the 19th Party Congress offers valuable insight into the foundation, new direction, and priorities of China’s policy for the next five years. A comparison of Xi’s report to the 19th Party Congress with Hu’s to the 18th reveals some continuities, as well as some noticeable departures under Xi’s “Thought on socialism with Chinese characteristics for a new era.”

Ideological roadmap and vision for the future

For national development, Xi’s report reiterates two of the country’s long-standing objectives.  First, Xi asserts that China is in the final stage of elevating the country to a “moderately prosperous society” by 2020—a goal originating with Jiang Zemin’s report in 2002. Second, Xi reaffirms China’s commitment to becoming a strong, modern socialist country by the 100th anniversary of the establishment of the People’s Republic of China in 2049.  Xi has linked these objectives to his own ambition for the rejuvenation of the country, the “China Dream.”

The political report unveils a new ideological concept— the “Thought on socialism with Chinese characteristics for a new era.” Xi establishes a new goal for China to “realize socialist modernization” by 2035, marking the half-way point on its path to becoming a fully developed nation by 2049. With the 2035 goal, Xi has revised China’s vision for growth and development, indicating the party has great confidence that China can continue to meet its ambitious goals at an accelerated pace.

The report, however, did not reemphasize the previous Party Congress goal of doubling per capita gross domestic product by 2020, nor the long-standing goal of doubling the size of the economy by 2021. These exclusions could indicate that Chinese leadership may seek more flexibility in addressing the structural problems the Chinese economy is facing.

Foreign Policy: A new type of international relations

The report re-stated the need for China to advance multilateral diplomacy and reform the international system under Xi’s vision of “a new type of international relations”. In the next five years, China’s foreign policy will continue to emphasize peace, development, cooperation and mutual benefit amongst international parties. Xi envisions China as a leading element of greater global and regional economic integration, highlighting the role the “One Belt, One Road” initiative plays in solidifying Chinese influence.

The 19th Party Congress echoed statements from the 17th and 18th Party Congress on the need to “safeguard China’s sovereignty, security and territorial integrity and ensure its peaceful development.” Xi identified China’s use of artificial islands to shore up Chinese sovereignty in the South China Sea as a highlight of his first five years. Xi strongly emphasized the importance of the “One Country, Two Systems” principle and particularly mentioned central government’s authority in Hong Kong.

Compared with Hu’s “Peaceful Development” concept, Xi has taken a stronger stance on Taiwan and the return of Taiwan to control under mainland China. As expected, Xi stressed the importance of the “1992 Consensus” on the Taiwan issue. Such rhetoric has once again left no room for compromise on the recognition of the “1992 Consensus” as a precondition for cross-strait dialogue.

Economy, defense, and domestic security

Although Xi stated that the Chinese government will work to minimize financial risks, encourage innovation, and increase consumer spending, his speech gave no indication of plans for further liberalizing reform. Besides, Xi stressed the need for stronger, bigger state-owned enterprises, as well as the use of the “visible hand” of government to impose stricter regulations on the financial system. This report also reflects that Xi may take a conservative view on the plans for the renminbi to play a larger international role.

In the defense and security realm, Xi promoted the “Chinese dream of a strong military” by comprehensively promoting national defense and military modernization. By 2020, Xi states the Chinese military should reach its goals on mechanization, with significant progress in IT applications and strategic ability. By 2035, China will achieve the goals on modernized its defense and armed forces, and, by 2050, the People’s Liberation Army should be world-class.

Xi’s report acknowledges inequality and obstacles to raising the quality of life in China. Important goals for future development include reducing pollution, improving schools and health care, and ensuring fairer access to courts and the justice system. To “improve the national security system, and strengthen national security capacity,” Xi promised tighter control over the internet, including the use of censorship to manage viewpoints at odds with party objectives and ideology.

The risks in Xi’s “New Era”

To adapt to the “new era” and achieve the national objectives for 2020, 2035 and 2049, the party under Xi Jinping’s will continue to focus on  managing domestic affairs for the next five years. In order to reconcile the imbalances of social development, the party will push forward with major structural reforms to achieve higher living standards, lower levels of corruption and pollution in the context of China’s “new normal”-lower but robust growth rates. Some concerns remain. If China fails to overhaul its economic development model, it risks falling into the middle-income trap. Stricter domestic control over religion, education, culture, and civil society may increase social unrest.

Abroad, party leadership and Xi must work to cement China’s position within the global community. They will continue to maintain positive relations with Japan, the United States and other Western countries. As a major beneficiary of global economic integration, China will continue to support globalization and oppose protectionism. To create “a community of shared future for mankind”, China will advocate reform for the structure of global governance, and also cooperate with other major powers on shared transnational security threats such as climate change and terrorism. Meanwhile, Xi will make more extensive use of China’s growing international presence and influence to promote China’s interests in priority areas. As China becomes more assertive, tensions in Asia and in the South China Sea will persist.

Categories: Asia Pacific, Politics

About Author

Qi Lin

Qi is a Washington, D.C.-based analyst. She specializes in East Asian security and Chinese foreign policy. She is a Chinese native speaker and proficient in English. She holds a Bachelor’s in Political Science from the University of North Carolina and a Master’s in International Affairs from the George Washington University.