The 20th Communist Party Congress Set To Redefine China, World

At some point later this month a parade in Beijing of men in dark suits would indicate the direction China and the world are headed to when at the end of its 20th Congress the Communist Party will showcase the key members of its powerful standing committee who will lead the world’s second-biggest economy for the next five years.

What looks certain is that President Xi Jinping is set to get an unprecedented third term, breaking old norms that required the leader to retire at the end of two five-year terms, an effort by the Communist Party in the post-Mao Zedong era to ensure that no single individual controls power for too long.

That norm has been overturned, raising possibilities of Xi becoming the ruler of China for life.

However, every political system always tries to balance itself and, therefore, it will be interesting to see the others who make it to the Standing Committee and join Xi for the post-Congress walkabout amid cheers from party members. The political and economic course of China, and thereby, the rest of the world will be determined by chosen individuals.

The Chinese economy is under stress due to long Covid-related lockdowns even while the rest of the world is mostly open. Its place in the world is being questioned by many as its economy slows down and a war in Europe raises concerns over Beijing’s backing of Russia.

There is view that Xi has amassed power unlike his predecessors who followed Mao. That he is a strong believer of the party’s central role in society, as well as China’s role in the world. That there is nothing beyond and above maintaining the party’s authority. A lot of how he sees the world and China’s place in it comes from the view that the West is in decline.

In the past decade, China has indeed become more aggressive. Under Xi, Beijing has set its sight on displacing the United States as a superpower. Its ambitions have grown manifolds despite the Covid setbacks amid accusations that the vile virus that shut the world down for months came out of China.

Walking with Xi

So, as China gets ready to watch the results of domestic politicking, it becomes important to see what kind of a team Xi will walk out with at the end of the party congress. The new faces in the Standing Committee and the Politburo will determine if Xi is in as much control as the world believes him to be, or he has had to cut deals with others in the party to push his agenda.

More importantly, does the party – looking to give roles to the next generation of leaders – trusts Xi and is willing to continue to let him run the country’s future course.

If the traditional retirement age of 68 is enforced, then there will be at least two vacancies on the seven-member Standing Committee. Xi needs to find allies to ensure he has an upper hand in the key decision-making body. Bringing in his chief of staff Ding Xuexiang, Shanghai party chief Li Qiang, Beijing party chief Cai Qi or Chongqing party chief Chen Miner would show Xi to have succeeded in pushing his influence over the party.

Continuation of Premier Li Keqiang, who has already said he would step down, along with Vice Premier Hu Chunhua would indicate Xi’s loss in the struggle for power. Who gets the premier’s role will be key as the person in that position is responsible for running the government. Xi would want an ally to get that job to remove any challenges and challengers.

The Standing Committee members emerge from the 25-member Politburo, which could look dramatically different thanks to the impending retirement of nine of its members. Xi might look at easing out others to bring in people he trusts.

More of the same or not?

Then there are the titles in the party that make a leader equally or more important than those who preceded him. In case Xi bags the now-defunct role of party chairman, his supremacy on everything in China will be complete as that would shine the sun on him as sharply as it did on Mao who was the last person to have that title.

The several trillion-dollar question, however, is whether Xi will be more of what he is seen to be now or different once he gets the third term and a place in contemporary Chinese history only accorded to Mao by the party.

The answer is important because there is a fear of China across a large chunk of the world. Its rise has not exactly been peaceful during Xi’s first decade in power. While everything it does is in its self-interest just like other nations, a sharp difference between its political system and that of the West, or even its largest neighbour India, raises suspicions and uncertainties. China’s future course will decide the direction the world moves towards.

The Great Wall of Information successfully keeps the world out of China and China away from the world. However, as the world comes together to curtail China’s rise, Xi and his China will increasingly face a global pushback even while he strengthens his position domestically. Will cementing power at home give him the comfort and ability to manage the outside world better?

We should know soon.

— The Editor

One thought on “The 20th Communist Party Congress Set To Redefine China, World

  1. China has tremendous impact on the world economy. We experienced that during pandemic, empty store shelves shook us to the core , that we are so dependent. Now that we are on the other side of the hill, we feel a lot better. We hold our breath as we wait for the mystery to unfold.

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