The October 20th Congress of the Chinese Communist Party was held in a turbulent time. China, with its controversial ‘zero COVID’ policy, wants to completely block the transmission of the virus (which seems utopian). It results in numerous lockdowns that weaken the economy, and therefore the expected economic growth of the country will be much lower than planned by the Chinese authorities. It is predicted that it will be lower than in the USA and in other countries of the region for the first time in several dozen years. The US-Chinese technological rivalry and confrontation in the context of Taiwan are also exacerbating. In turn, Xi’s good, although recently strained, relations with Vladimir Putin are worsening China’s image in the West. The country is facing a demographic crisis and an aging population, problems in the real estate market and rising unemployment – especially among young people.
The consolidation of power Xi
The party congress, as expected, extended Xi Jinping’s power for a third term. This marks a break with China’s 40-year tradition of rule for just two terms. It is a return to the tradition of one-man leadership at the expense of collective power that has been the basis of power in China since the market reforms and the opening of Deng Xiaoping in 1978. It also means breaking the tradition of activists and leaders retiring at 68 (Xi is 69). The Chinese leader now has one-man power over the country, comparable to that of Mao Zedong, who for the Chinese is primarily a person who united the country, strengthened it internationally, and ended the “era of humiliation” by the West in the nineteenth century, when China was treated by powers western like a colony). Of course, the times of the crimes of the “cultural revolution” and the “great leap” are remembered (especially in the older generation), but in Chinese popular thinking and propaganda, the continuity and building of a strong China are more important. The election of Xi for a third term and his speech at the congress also shows a lasting change in the way of thinking and priorities of power, which is expressed in recognition of the priority of security, ideology and political power before economic growth. According to many commentators, we are now dealing with the end of the period of relatively open China, as we know it since 1978, and the opening of a new stage in its development (in China it is referred to as the “new era of Xi Jinping”). Compared to 2017, when Xi was talking primarily about reforms, in this year’s inaugural speech the word “security” appeared more than 70 times (understood in all dimensions, both military and economic, social or medical), which may show the direction the country is headed. Congress also elected 25 members of BP’s Politburo and 7 of BP’s Standing Committee, which is the country’s decision-making body. They found only fully loyal supporters of the leader. Analysts emphasize that there is no possible successor to Xi among them, which would indicate that he may remain in power even longer. The country’s No. 2 prime minister (who is largely responsible for the economy) will be trusted by Xi – Li Qiang, party secretary in Shanghai. He will replace the outgoing, considered liberal Prime Minister Li Keqiang. The event on the last day of the congress was much commented on and quite mysterious, when Hu Jintao – former Chinese leader (in 2002-2012, before Xi came to power) was led out of the conference room. It is certain that Hu, 79, has health problems and that his people have been removed from the party’s decision-making bodies. The time of his rule is also a symbol of China’s enormous growth and openness. The footage from the congress shows him, appearing tired, to be persuaded to leave the room, with Xi’s consent. Before that, he exchanged a few more words with Xi and Prime Minister Li Keqiang.
Xi: a critical time for China
In opening the Xi Congress, he called on 97 million party members to prepare for a “critical time” in the country’s history. – So we need to be more aware of potential dangers, be prepared for the worst-case scenarios and ready to withstand strong winds, rough waters and even dangerous storms – said Xi in a speech to about 2.3 thousand delegates gathered in the Great Hall of the People in Beijing. He emphasized the need to protect state security and social stability. He also touched upon the issues of innovation, new technologies, as well as the COVID-19 pandemic, Taiwan, Hong Kong and environmental protection. He called for the strengthening of “patriotic education”, announced the strengthening of the Chinese army – including the development of weapons technology and increasing combat readiness – so that it would be a “world-class army” and be able to “fight and win wars.” He stressed the need to maintain the party’s total supremacy over the armed forces. He defended Beijing’s strict zero COVID strategy, which continues to lock entire cities in China into lockdowns. This should be interpreted as a signal that a rapid easing of this policy, which has caused significant disruption to economic activity, is not to be expected. Xi also stated that China will “win in the battle for key technologies.” The Chinese leader also announced that he would seek “a solution to the Taiwan issue”. China, he said, intends to pursue “peaceful reunification”, but will never promise that it will “renounce the use of force and reserve the right to use all necessary measures,” he stressed that it was “aimed solely at interference by external forces and a small number of separatists. for Taiwan independence ”. – The complete unification of our country must be achieved and it can undoubtedly be achieved – emphasized Xi. Xi made no reference, even indirectly, to the war in Ukraine or relations with Russia. He did not mention any country in his speech.
The Americans are putting pressure on China
Comments on the events in China in the Western media, and in particular in the Polish media, were most interested in the issues of Taiwan, the “zero COVID” strategy and China’s attitude towards the world. However, these issues turned out to be the most predictable in practice in the context of Xi’s announcement, because nothing has changed in them and most likely will not change in the near future. Taiwan is a symbolic and honorable matter for the Chinese, and its reunification with the continent is a non-negotiable foundation of Chinese policy. Therefore, it is possible to predict a further escalation of the situation in the strait. On the one hand, we have the Chinese approach to Taiwan, treating the island as part of the Chinese state, with which unification in Chinese propaganda is the main element of foreign policy – an element of constant presence in Chinese minds. At the same time, we have the American approach, which in the world very consistently supports the subjectivity of the Republic of China in Taiwan, while maintaining official US diplomatic relations with the PRC, and not with the Republic of China in Taiwan, which is an attempt to test the Chinese reaction. Given these two perspectives, the situation could run out of control at any time and lead to conflict. The Americans, strengthened in the war in Ukraine, seem to be, together with their allies, a much stronger side and prepared for the aggravation of the situation. Contrary to the seemingly weaker, partially isolated and weakened by the “zero COVID” policy of China, in which it is in the interest of reunification with Taiwan without destroying its economic potential. Recent unrest in the strait has shown that the Chinese are actually considering the island’s blockade. However, the economic effects of such a situation will hit the entire world (the question of who is more – strategists are pondering this) and may lead to a military confrontation with the US and its allies. So ahead of us is further tugging, a psychological game and efforts by both sides to show the world who is the aggressor in the strait and strives for military solutions. The US-Chinese technological confrontation is also exacerbating. A week before the party’s congress, the United States imposed key export restrictions on advanced technology and equipment to China enabling the production of advanced chips. According to experts, this will seriously affect the Chinese economy, which has a few years backward in the area of state-of-the-art semiconductors, although it is quickly making up for it. Earlier, the Americans had banned American companies from investing in China in the smart chip sector. Further export restrictions in the area of quantum computing and artificial intelligence are also planned. According to many commentators, the tightening of the screw by the United States will force the Chinese to consolidate and tighten their policies, both internal and external, to meet the challenge of securing technological sovereignty, which the Americans are probably aware of.
Zero COVID as a Social Engineering Tool
As for the controversial “zero-COVID” policy, there will be no change here, as was to be expected. China in its narrative does not accept the presence of the virus and emphasizes that “human life is more important than economic development” (which, given the current very low mortality rate, sounds unconvincing), therefore it is able to accept all costs of fighting the disease by locking, for example, 20 million people in homes after the detection of several dozen cases of the virus, including half of the asymptomatic. It is worth noting that the “zero-COVID” policy fits in with Xi Jinping’s vision of shaping society and “social engineering”. It contributes to maintaining and increasing the social control of citizens, emphasizing the consistency and agency of power, showing the uniqueness and “distinctiveness of Chinese civilization”, and also – it simply supports activities for self-sufficiency and modern autarky. Konrad Rajca