Decoding the Report to China’s 20th Party Congress - Plataforma Media

Decoding the Report to China’s 20th Party Congress

On October 16, 2022, the General Secretary of the Communist Party of China (CPC), Xi Jinping, delivered his report to the opening session of the 20th Party Congress in about two hours. His speech was politically important, and this essay goes through and analyzes the main content of Xi Jinping’s report.

As with his previous speeches in major occasions, Xi Jinping opened his address by mentioning the leading role of the CPC in constructing socialist modernization and stepping toward the second 100 anniversary of the ruling party in China. He added that the main theme of the Congress is to raise the banner of “Chinese style socialism,” to implement “socialism thought with Chinese style in the new era,” and to “struggle for the renaissance of the Chinese nation.”

He then reviewed the diligent work in the past ten years, including how the Party has promoted the process of achieving affluence in China, developing high quality development, implementing the people’s democracy and the rule of law, protecting the people’s livelihood and addressing the issue of poverty. At the same time, the Party must prevent the occurrence of crises, adopt great power diplomacy, implement party history education, and mobilize the citizens to contain the spread of Covid-19 and its variants through the persistence of the dynamic zero-Covid policy.

Then Xi Jinping quickly shifted to the topic of Hong Kong in which he said the principles of implementing “comprehensive jurisdiction” and ensuring the “patriots” governing the city have been carried out. As a result, as he had already stressed on July 1, 2022, Hong Kong was changed from “chaos to governance.” Then he shifted to the issue of Taiwan and emphasized that China has to struggle against those Taiwan “separatists” and to maintain its national sovereignty, development and core interest and to grasp the initiative of protecting Beijing’s security.

Obviously, Xi Jinping at the onset of his report laid out the contributions of the CPC and was concerned about Hong Kong and Taiwan – a very unusual beginning in his previous speeches.

Then Xi turned to Marxism-Leninism-Maoism and Deng Xiaoping thought as well as “the three representatives” and “scientific development” perspective, adding that these ideologies and thoughts have to be maintained in the context of China’s socialist development and modernization.

Clearly, ideologies remain the most important shaper in Chinese political and economic development – a phenomenon that outside observers must understand before they study Chinese politics more deeply.

Xi Jinping emphasized that Marxism has been Sinified in China, ensuring that the Party’s authority and united leadership can be protected while making solidarity of its 96 million members stronger than ever before.

Here, the leadership and longevity of the CPC are emphasized, meaning that the objective is to achieve its second 100 anniversary in the coming decades – a very positive and ambitious task indeed.

Then Xi Jinping turned to the economic achievements of China in the past decade, emphasizing that the ideology of Marxism remains important, that socialist modernization is the task of the mainland, and that the people-centered thought refers to the need of the Party to deal with the welfare of all ordinary citizens, ranging from education to medical health, from residence to poverty alleviation, from social welfare protection to the happiness of the masses. He added that the idea of “common prosperity” will have to be persisted.

Apart from the people’s livelihood, environmental protection and sustainability are crucial to China’s development, which embraces security in the broad sense of fighting natural disasters; combatting organized crime; achieving the protection of national sovereignty, security and development interest; and most importantly developing a strong military.

Clearly, Xi Jinping and other CPC leaders are very keen to develop a strong Party-state in mainland China with the central concern about the protection of national security. It is interesting to see the word security appearing many times in the entire report, illustrating China’s foremost concern.

Xi Jinping then turned to China’s great power diplomacy and rejected hegemonism, strong power politics, unilateralism and protectionism.

Without naming any country, the report is obvious in which superpower that General Secretary Xi referred to in an implicit manner.

Interestingly, he shifted immediately to domestic concern about a strict approach to dealing with Party discipline, indicating the necessity of anti-corruption work. He stressed that even if anti-corruption work may antagonize thousands of party members, it is necessary to avoid letting down the wishes of billions of Chinese citizens – a powerful statement meaning that anti-corruption work has to continue to consolidate, rejuvenate and energize the CPC. The objective is to make the Party’s colors, qualities and tastes remain unchanged, as he said.

In his report, Xi Jinping laid out a blueprint for China’s strong developmental state, namely it will have to realize socialist modernization from 2020 to 2035, and then it will build up a “harmonious and beautiful” socialist modernization country from 2035 to the end of this mid-century.

However, he warned the CPC members that they have to maintain their crisis consciousness, preparing to cope with crises and challenges and even storms in the coming years and decades. However, CPC members are not afraid of pressure and can cope with challenges positively, resiliently and energetically.

Here, Xi Jinping and his think tank are obvious not only Marxist-Leninist but also Maoist/Hegelian because they all believe that the spirit and value of maintaining a high degree of crisis consciousness are necessary for all CPC members. In a sense, Xi and the current Chinese leaders are focusing on the need to reform and strengthen the superstructure, while maintaining the emphasis on accelerating the productive forces and consolidating the economic base. If the consolidation of the economic base is a hallmark of Chinese pragmatists, Xi and his think tank members clearly are imbued with this idea. But what is unique about Xi and his protégé is the strong emphasis on the improvement and consolidation of the superstructure (values, spirits, education, institution) so that the CPC longevity will be ensured.

If Mao Zedong was regarded as a Chinese leader focusing on permanent revolution, Xi Jinping can be seen as his protégé emphasizing the importance of Party immortality and Party’s “self-revolution” – a key word he used in his report.

What is unique about Xi Jinping and his protégé in this 20th Party Congress report is that they also emphasize the use of technology in the development and acceleration of productive forces in the economic base. Technology is a means to an end, namely the objective of making China strong from now to the future. As such, talents cultivation is the key to China’s technological and economic success. Then Xi Jinping in his report shifted quickly to the area of education in which talents have to be groomed, created and retained.

For Xi Jinping and his protégé, Chinese democracy refers to the people’s democracy, meaning that the people are the masters who uphold the Party leadership on the one hand and whose benefits and welfare are the foremost concern of the CPC on the other. In this aspect, the relationships between the people and the Party are to achieve unison. When the word people are used in the report, as with the White Paper on Chinese democracy, the people must participate in elections consultation, policymaking process, management, supervision and their initiatives and creativity must be unleashed. The people, according to Xi Jinping’s report, can participate actively in grassroots-level organizations, unions and the people’s congresses – mechanisms of Chinese-style democracy.

Again, the emphasis on the people as the basis of strengthening the superstructure and economic base of China is very striking in the report – an indication of a unique mixture of Marxism-Maoism and pragmatism in the political thoughts of Xi Jinping.

In the process of China’s modernization, the rule of law is important, according to Xi Jinping. Laws can create a just society, help governance, promote scientific way of legislation, lead to implementation of policies, and ensure the people to abide by them.

In a sense, Xi Jinping and his protégé are also legalist in their political thought, utilizing laws as a means to promote the development of the productive forces, to improve social justice, to deal with social deviants, and most importantly to maintain the social and political order.

Xi Jinping in his report also appealed to the people to have confidence, confidence in which social and political cohesion can and will be achieved, including the mass media, the Internet, the civic culture of citizens, their moral conduct and values, and cultural development. Self-confidence is seen as a key element to strengthen the mindset of the ordinary people, including all Party members, so that socialist modernization can and will be achieved successfully.

Then Xi Jinping turns to the social distribution system which he says should be fair, but the government is keen to expand the middle sector’s income while strengthening employment, anti-poverty work, and social welfare and public housing as well as public health provision. The aim is to consolidate the socialist elements of China in its entire society.

Finally, he emphasized the need for a green China where ecological protection will be maintained, and where energy revolution needs to be conducted.

The entire report ends in a repetition of the importance of national security – a reflection of how the Chinese leadership is so concerned about internal and external security in a new era in which the world is changing so rapidly with great uncertainties. The modernization of the military and defense came at the end of the report, which stresses the Party leading the military construction process.

Then Xi Jinping turned to the “one country, two systems” in Hong Kong and Macau, repeating the principles of “patriots” ruling the two places while saying that China will strive to use peaceful reunification to cope with Taiwan’s future. However, China cannot renounce the use of force if necessary, according to the General Secretary. He also stressed that the resort to force aims at targeting at a minority of “separatists” in Taiwan and the external forces’ intervention.

The message to Taiwan and the US is actually very clear. While the US is warned not to interfere with China’s domestic affairs, namely its drive to reunify Taiwan in the future, the Taiwan leadership must not do anything to undermine China’s resolve to reunify the island and to reassert its sovereignty.

Xi Jinping used the term “complete reunification” that will have to be realized – a very important remark implying that China may have a timetable to deal with Taiwan’s political future in the coming years.

In China’s foreign policy, Xi Jinping emphasized China’s peaceful coexistence principle and insistence on economic globalization and the democratization of international relations. The term “democratization” is used in the report, meaning that externally China is quite liberal in its foreign policy while stressing the principles of fairness, justice, peace, development and democracy as well as freedom.

Last but not the least, Xi Jinping underlined the principle of dealing with the CPC strictly. The Party must persist in its “self-revolution,” and it cannot be complacent in the construction of the socialist enterprises. Strong Party leadership, he repeated, is necessary for China and the CPC must improve and strengthen itself in the entire process of development and modernization. He appealed to the young people to play a crucial role in leading the Party and the Chinese nation, and to shoulder the responsibility and carry the ideals forward so that socialist modernization prospects will remain bright.

Overall, Xi Jinping’s report was highly impressive in several aspects.

First, as mentioned before, he has highlighted the interactive relationships between China’s superstructure and its economic base. The emphases on how to renew the superstructure through values changes, through the need to maintain the socialist spirit and ideology, and on how the economic base can be consolidated through technological development and talents cultivation are really striking. China remains clearly Marxist-Leninist and Maoist to some extent while pragmatism can be seen in its economic modernization.

Second, the emphasis on Hong Kong and Macau’s rule by “patriots” proves that China is deeply concerned about social and political stability especially in the Hong Kong case. Yet, with the promulgation of the national security law in late June 2020, Hong Kong is now stabilized, thereby going through the process from “chaos to governance” – a point emphasized by Xi in his report and in his speech in the capitalist city as early as July 1, 2022. The two places are expected to integrate deeper into the Greater Bay Area in the coming years, contributing to the “one country, two systems” actualization process.

Third, Taiwan remains a priority issue for China in the coming years. Here, the US role is implicitly warned. Moreover, a timetable of reunifying Taiwan appears to be hidden and not made explicit in the report. But the term “complete reunification” is shown in the first time in an official Chinese report like this one – meaning that China has the determination to resolve the issue of Taiwan’s political future perhaps sooner than expected.

Fourth, China remains a very strong developmental state in dealing with its modernization in all aspects, economically, socially, culturally, educationally, politically as well as environmentally. The rise of China is characterized by this very strong state that is perhaps unprecedented in the history of modern China. The objective is to ensure the longevity of the CPC in the coming decades, with the code word “2nd 100 anniversary” that remains the ultimate target.

Fifth, China’s foreign policy is characterized by external liberalism, multilateralism, non-interventionism and mutual respect of other countries’ values. This liberal foreign policy of China has already constituted a threat to some countries in the world, indeed, especially as its economic and technological development is rapid and advanced, while the military of China is undergoing such rapid transformation and modernization that many countries in the world, without understanding China’s historical humiliation in the Qing dynasty, may not fully grasp the Chinese mentality here. A strong military and national defense, as the report says, is necessary for China to overcome its ancient weakness and to achieve the Chinese renaissance. But China is militarily defensive rather than offensive, unlike what the China threat theorists and observers have often said.

In conclusion, the report delivered by CPC General Secretary Xi Jinping is politically significant. It marks a unique disposition of how the superstructure and economic base, from a Marxist perspective, has been handled by the Chinese leadership with close and dynamic interactions between the two elements. China’s superstructure can contribute to the development of productive forces in its economic base, and vice versa – an illustration of how the ideologies of Marxism, Leninism, Maoism and pragmatism are mixed in a very Chinese and unique way. Hong Kong and Macau remain the models of “one country, two systems” and the Chinese vision is to make the two cities successful while emphasizing its “comprehensive jurisdiction” and national security interest in the two places. As such, Hong Kong and Macau must continue to work hard, to integrate closely into the Greater Bay Area and the mainland, and to utilize the great support provided by the central government in a positive and constructive manner. Taiwan remains the ultimate target of China’s reunification efforts and we will surely see more dynamic interactions between the two places in the coming years, with the implication that the US must prepare for various contingency circumstances and to facilitate their peaceful reunification rather than “obstructing” it. China’s developmental state internally is obvious in the content of the entire report, while its foreign policy is basically very liberal. Finally, the China threat perception naturally lingers and remains in the mindset of those people who do not fully understand Chinese history and who may have biases against the Chinese state and nation. Overall, the report delivered by Xi Jinping is a good roadmap for us to comprehend the political landscape of China from an objective perspective.

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