If there is one immediate conclusion that we can draw from Xi Jinping’s speech at the Communist Party of China congress on the 16th, it is that continuity and not radical or bold innovation is the way forward in the minds of the ruling elite. The world around us may be in upheaval in troubling change, with deepening divisions in the United States, a Europe beset by ongoing energy, inflation, and broader economic problems, and a Central Asia focused on the Russian invasion of Ukraine. For China, the effort will be to stick to the commitments already decided, and simply try to speed them up.
Xi’s long speech had a similar structure to the three and a half hour speech he delivered at the previous congress five years ago. But the world in which she now speaks, and his own position, have changed. At that time, Donald Trump had just been elected president of the United States. He himself had just started his second term as party leader, something that everyone expected. The almost certain result this time is that he will be given another five-year term, a break with recent precedent. The “new era” is one of the many buzzwords in contemporary Chinese political discourse. As far as the Xi domain is concerned, this term is appropriate. Never before has China been as powerful as a country, and never before has the person running it been allowed the kind of freedom and agency that Xi has. Your speech would sound very strange if your country were in a weaker and less dominant position. It would be cause for ridicule. But of course China is not even remotely weak or marginal right now. Fear, therefore, is the most likely response to his continued assertions throughout this year’s speech about the absolute centrality of the Communist Party in Chinese political life, about the need for China to have its own status and international space, and that it is, as Xi put it, in a position of “combat readiness.” Officials also have to be disciplined and willing to continue fighting uprightly, serving as moral examples to their constituents: the great mass of the Chinese people, whom they have to serve and put first. China means business, at least in Xi’s view which can be extrapolated from this speech. The “historic mission” of building a strong and powerful nation has reached an important milestone, and its completion is drawing ever closer. This has always been the rationale for Xi’s political style. But now it has intensified.
As in his previous speeches, this is a statement largely devoid of concrete and tangible goals, but full of aspirations and aspirational language. The simple phrase “we will” he used almost obsessively during much of the speech. Here Xi shares the same mindset as all his predecessors as party leaders: seeing history as something that is always positive in his direction, always leading to better and better things in the end, predictable, full of patterns that can be read and understood. , and then worked. China is now in the “primary phase of socialism.” He has achieved, as he pointed out, the elimination of absolute poverty. He now he has to do something more in terms of the quality of economic growth and, in particular, not be limited to the material infrastructures of society, but to information technology: education, health and social development. The environment also needs to be improved (Xi has always been an environmentalist, even before he came to central power during his years in Zhejiang in the early 2000s). People must always come first. But what this means concretely is that China has to firmly protect two things: its own strong sense of culture and uniqueness, and its ability to protect its interests and guide its own destiny. People must always come first. But what this means concretely is that China has to firmly protect two things: its own strong sense of culture and uniqueness, and its ability to protect its interests and guide its own destiny. People must always come first. But what this means concretely is that China has to firmly protect two things: its own strong sense of culture and uniqueness, and its ability to protect its interests and guide its own destiny.
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For this last aspect, the continuing technological and trust deficit in some areas vis-à-vis the West remains a big problem. China has made increasing efforts to improve its innovation record. For this he has allocated enormous sums of money. Xi has declared that he wants better universities and to make them more linked to a national strategy, led by the government, in which the country achieves greater technological autonomy. Is this really possible? Can innovation thrive when there is so much centralization and political instruction? In many ways, the Government’s attitude is that if enough resources are made available, good things will happen in the end. But in an increasingly difficult economic environment, it is easy to see how difficult this can be.
Xi as a leader has brought a lot of predictability to Chinese politics. In the past, there were always questions, doubts and rumors about the direction of the country. In many ways, Xi is a strong leader in bureaucratic procedures, laws, and regulations—those that bear the important label “with Chinese characteristics” ascribed to them. What we have seen this year in the congress is not so much Xi 2.0, but Xi, the third act. The main lines of the policy in China have been clearly exposed and articulated. The question now is simply whether they will work in a new global and economic situation in which the biggest risk China poses is not inside the country, but outside it.