Assessing the 19th Chinese Communist Party Congress: An Interview with Ming-chin Monique Chu

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Over the past week, the 19th Party Congress of the Chinese Communist Party has taken place. To find out more about its significance Wessex Scene spoke to Doctor Ming-chin Monique Chu, lecturer in Chinese Politics at the University of Southampton, for her analysis.

What is the general significance of Chinese Communist Party Congresses?

The National Party Congress (NPC) is, in theory, the top of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) pyramid. It convenes once every five years and serves as the symbolic function of displaying the CCP’s power and unity. At the same time, when the 2,000 deputies meet in Beijing for a week every five years, they are shouldered with the responsibilities to pick provincial party chiefs, governors, and heads of some of the state-owned enterprises.

They’re also shouldered with some of the responsibilities to approve the Five Year Plans. So, in a nutshell, it’s a very important political gathering. The reason why the current 19th Party Congress is especially important is because about 70% of the 400-strong Central Committee of the NPC have either reached retirement age, or been purged because of corruption, so this means we’ll see a quite a lot of new faces after this Congress.

I’ve read that the Party Congress was opened by a more than 3 hour-long speech by Xi Jinping [the current President of China]. What were the main takeaways from that speech for the future direction of China, especially in relation to foreign affairs? Also, is it normal for the General-Secretary to have such a long speech?!

It’s actually quite normal for the General-Secretary of the CCP to give lengthy speeches during such an important political gathering, and there are several important points that we need to pay attention to in his speech.

The first is this continuation of his idea of pursuing the ‘Chinese Dream’, in that today Chinese self-identification as a great power has really loomed large and we can see traces of evidence in this regard throughout his speech. Secondly, this means he’s quite willing to increase China’s assertiveness on the world stage through various concrete policy measures. For example, in the 2012 NPC speech by Xi Jinping, he argued that the Chinese military is determined to ‘win a local war in an information age’. In contrast, during the speech he made last week, he actually dropped the word ‘local’, which seems to indicate that China is determined to win any kind of war in an information age by continuously modernising its military.

Second, it’s likely that as part of the implementation of the speech, Xi and his government will continuously push for the ‘One Belt, One Road’ initiative that he introduced in 2013.

And thirdly, in his speech he also put emphasis on any split of the Chinese territory, which seems to indicate that he’s quite determined to destroy any move towards separation or independence, either by Taiwan or Hong Kong.

The NPC announces at the very end the new make-up of the Politburo Standing Committee [the most powerful decision-making body within the CCP]. Who’s been touted as the new members?

We won’t know the answer for sure until the conclusion of the NPC. However, there have been several names that have been constantly mentioned in the press. So, the likely 7 members will include, of course, Xi Jinping himself. The second will be the incumbent premier, Li Keqiang.

The third and the fourth will be Xi’s trusted allies. They are Li Zhanshu and Han Zheng. The three other names that have been tipped include Zhao Leji, Wan Huning and Wang Yang. It’s crucial to note that, at this point in time, Wang Qishan, who’s been a very able aide of Xi in charge of anti-campaign activities, is likely not to continuously serve him on the Standing Committee. This is primarily because he’d actually reach his retirement age in the middle of his term if he were to continue.

The retirement age is 68, isn’t it?

Yes, yes, it is.

In terms of the wider twenty-five members of the Politburo, some scholars argue that Xi is likely to place some of his trusted allies in the Politburo.

The final point I want to mention is we need to see clearly if there are any signs after the decision of the make-up of the Politburo, that Xi intends to appoint his successor at the conclusion of the NPC. That has been a practice in the past, but there are speculations as to the extent to which Xi may intend to stay in power after 2022. We need to wait and see.

Editor’s Note: On 25th October, the new Politburo Standing Committee was announced and Doctor Monique’s tips proved to be entirely correct. Also, no clear heir apparent to Xi was indicated.

To what extent has Xi Jinping become the most powerful figure in China and are we seeing the beginning of a dynasty even?

If you read the Western press reports on China over the past five years, there are certainly tendencies in which Xi has been described as one of the most powerful leaders since the Deng/Mao era.

At the People’s Party Congress, it has become quite clear that this is true, especially today when the NPC voted to enshrine Xi Jinping’s ideology in the Chinese constitution. So this means his ‘Thought’, which is really at the top of the ideological hierarchy in the Chinese context, namely the ‘socialism with Chinese characteristics in a new era’, will become part of the constitution. Remember, there was only Mao’s Thought and Deng’s Thought that was included in the constitution. Certainly, this indicates his will to become the most powerful leader since Mao.

You mentioned earlier, ‘One Belt, One Road’. Could you tell me a little bit more about what that initiative is?

In 2013, Xi outlined his strategy to revive the traditional Silk Road project. In the new version, he aspired
to revive the route through Central Asia plus a maritime counterpart. This has been regarded as China’s
ambition to try to lead investments in different infrastructures in the pertinent Eurasian countries to
also help the Chinese economy develop concurrently. In October 2013, Beijing also proposed to set up
the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), dedicated to lending for projects regarding
infrastructure projects in support of the ‘One Belt, One Road’ initiative. So far, many countries have
joined the AIIB; others such as the US, Japan and India have reservations about the overall project.

However, if my observations about Xi’s assertiveness in new foreign policies are correct, I think we’re
likely to see the consolidation of the implementation of the ‘One Belt, One Road’ project during his time
as China’s supreme leader.

Editor’s note: This interview was conducted on 24th October. 

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International Editor 2017/18. Second year Modern History and Politics student from Bedford. Interested in British and International Politics, and Sport, particularly Rugby Union. Drinks far too much tea for his own good

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