The National Congress of the Communist Party of China
image by Thomas Fanghaenel on Wikimedia

On October 18, the 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China (NCCPC) will be opened in the Great Hall of the People, Beijing. During this five-year event, China’s top leadership will be replaced and reshuffled, and set out the strategic direction for China’s upcoming five years. This year’s Party Congress bears additional significance for a number of reasons.

Observations

  • China’s ruling Communist Party is expected to amend its constitution, as the Politburo, one of the party’s elite ruling bodies, will discuss a draft amendment to the constitution that will include “major theoretical viewpoints and major strategic thought”, according to official state media.
  • Xi Jinping reorganized the People’s Liberation Army and took direct control of the army. Furthermore, Xi modernized China’s military and put greater emphasis on new capabilities, like cyberspace, information warfare and high-tech weaponry.
  • Xi Jinping was named ‘core leader’ by the Communist Party last year, and has only been given to Mao Zedong, Deng Xiaoping and Jiang Zemin before.
  • China has founded several new multilateral and international organizations in the past few years, for example the Asian Infrastructure and Investment Bank, and its $1 trillion ‘Belt and Road Initiative’ wants to shake up the global economic order. China’s hegemonic rise is accelerated with the rise of these Chinese-led projects and institutions. 

Analysis

The primary importance of NCCPC are the personal reassignments, and that future policy can be indirectly gauged based on these appointments. This year’s NCCPC will have extra significance, as 11 of 25 Politburo (the political bureau of the Communist Party) members and 5 of 7 Politburo Standing Committee (China’s top leadership) will retire, and it is widely expected that President Xi will consolidate his power with strategic appointments. This comes at a moment when China is at historical crossroads, e. g. whether China can circumvent the middle-income trap or not: if China can sustain its current growth rates in the next five years, it will join a selected group of high-income economies (following the World Bank’s definitions). During the first day of the NCCPC, President Xi will deliver a work report on the Party’s achievements over the past five years and look forward to the next five years. That report might teach us something about China’s strategy to manage its economic transformation and it can be a sneak preview of China’s ‘new economy’.

Furthermore, the upcoming NCCPC allows President Xi to leave behind a ‘ideological legacy’, common for Chinese ‘core leaders’ since Mao Zedong. Mao himself enshrined the ‘Mao Zedong Thought’, a political philosophy derived from his own teaching, and often framed as ‘Sinicized Marxism’. Deng Xiaoping included the ‘Deng Xiaoping Theory’, which is the cornerstone of China’s economic reform and opening up, and ‘Four Modernizations’. Jiang Zemin proposed the theory ‘Three Represents’, allowing entrepreneurs to join the Party, and Hu Jintao developed the ‘Scientific Outlook on Development’ for creating a ‘harmonious society’ with more inclusive growth. Xi Jinping already pushed forward the term ‘China Dream’, describing a set of personal and national ideals for Chinese citizens and Communist Party leaders, for the “great revival of the Chinese nation”. Unlike his predecessors, his philosophy appeals to emotions, patriotism and China’s cultural proudness. Xi envisions a China that is both economically and culturally a global superpower and might further elaborate on this during the NCCPC and pursue his vision in his next term.

Xi envisions a China that is both economically and culturally a global superpower and might further elaborate on this during the NCCPC and pursue his vision in his next term.

President Xi’s vision for China has another, more practical reason. As China’s growth is slowing and its middle class consumers are on the rise, the Communist Party needs new ways to legitimize the concentration of power in its hands. It is no coincidence that Xi coined the term China Dream at a speech at the national museum, where an exhibition called ‘Road of Rejuvenation’ was showing how the Communist Party saved China from colonial powers and ended the ‘century of humiliation’. From that moment (1949), China has had an internal orientation and its rise since 1978 has been mostly economical. The next step is to present China as a global superpower, and China’s BRI and proactive stance on global (i.e. climate change or free trade) and local issues (i.e. the South China Sea) should be understood as moments in the next phase of China´s hegemonic rise. The NCCPC might reveal how China positions herself on the world stage.

Compared to five years ago, China has become much more important for global affairs. Whatever the outcome of this year’s NCCPC, its significance has become comparable to the American elections.