Key takeaways from Xi speech and the CPC congress

Chinese President Xi Jinping speaks at the closing ceremony of the 20th National Congress of the Communist Party of China, at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China October 22, 2022

China is taking bold steps to move closer to the centre of the global stage.

That is one of the main points made by President Xi Jinping in his speech at the opening of the 20th National Congress of the Communist Party of China on Sunday, October 16, 2022, in Beijing.

It is clear that President Xi feels that he has earned the right to stand tall in the world by projecting a more self-assured image for China. Despite the significant slowdown in the Chinese economy, caused partly by his aggressive zero Covid policy, the Chinese share of global GDP has increased from 7.2 percent to 18.5 percent. Xi believes that this is cause enough for celebration.

Xi offered Chinese socialism as the “new choice” for the rest of the world while describing his vision for the next five years in front of 2,340 delegates representing 96 million party members. If this sounds like a return to the old days when ideology reigned supreme over pragmatism, it probably is. However, at the very least, this suggests that China is re-emerging from the shadows to provide an ideological alternative to the current options, namely Western economic and political liberalism.

Another big takeaway from his address is the Communist Party’s role in the prosperity of China. As in all communist nations, the party is everything. As a result, Xi encouraged the party to retain strong leadership to keep China on track.

“Our party has a pivotal role in building China,” he declared. “As the largest Marxist governing party in the world, we must always stay vigilant, so as to maintain the people’s support and consolidate our position as the long-term governing party.”

When the 19th century began, China had the largest economy in the world. However, following rapid economic decline, nations such as the United Kingdom, Japan, and Russia appropriated pieces of China for themselves. It took the collaborative efforts of the Chiang Kai-shek government and the Communist Party to push them out. As a result, the CCP was crucial in reclaiming the territories and uniting China. When Xi invokes the party, he is alluding to the history that provides the party with its legitimate right to rule.

A significant portion of the speech was devoted to laying out a plan for Chinese modernisation, emphasising the value of rural development, reducing inequality, providing high-quality education, and pursuing green development.

One of the concerns that Xi highlighted was inequality. Initial development in China was geared towards eliminating poverty. However, now that the goal has been achieved and China is minting millionaires at the fastest rate globally, the emphasis must switch to equitable development. That will help bridge the development divide between the haves and have-nots, the Chinese East and West, and the urban and rural regions.

Aside from that, the speech was full of interesting anecdotes. It is worth noting, for example, the regularity with which Xi mentions democracy and the rule of law. That might be a genuine reflection of Xi’s desire for the party to progressively carry out the will of the people, but that is certainly not an endorsement of Western democracy. It takes a little bit of detective work to understand what Xi is saying here.

The extraordinary incident where former Chinese President Hu Jintao was escorted off the stage provides a clue. While some speculate that what happened resulted from the sudden onset of a disease, after watching the video several times, I agree with many analysts who believe it was an eviction. Given the evidence, the disease argument holds no water at all.

The point is that the removal of a former president from such a stage in such a public way is a vivid demonstration of the power that Xi wields in China today. Having secured an unprecedented third term, he is arguably the most powerful man in the world today. One can only speculate what Hu may have said to incur Xi’s wrath that way, but in all communist dictatorships, democracy means what the party leadership decides, others must obey. In the Chinese context today, party leadership means Xi and the loyal officials he has surrounded himself with.

Another stimulating idea in Xi’s speech is frugality. Xi declares that the party should “foster frugality throughout society”.

Frugality is an archaic word that is hardly heard nowadays. Xi’s use of frugality highlights the uniqueness of the Chinese worldview founded on Confucianism. This is the basis of Chinese traditional values, including financial prudence.

As a result, the Chinese are the biggest savers in the world, with households saving almost half of their disposable income. With hundreds of millions of avid savers, China enjoys enormous capital to finance its growth. Xi would like to keep capitalising on this, which is why he warns against wasteful consumption. Indeed, there are many postmodernist Western values that China will do the world a favour by challenging.

Some experts assert that “China is a civilisation masquerading as a nation”. What they mean is that it is difficult to fit China into the modern conceptualisation of nation-states and that it is best understood by examining its history as an empire, its political traditions, and government structures. Whatever that means, China has a rich history and is a treasure trove of learning. As a result, it is crucial to study China closely.