The National Congress of the Communist Party of China, a meeting widely covered yet very secretive, began in Beijing this week. It is the 19th Communist Party Congress, with the first being held in 1921. They have been held every five years since the 11th Congress in 1977. The event is not merely an election, nor is it simply an outline of policy, but rather a chance for chosen delegates close to the party to discuss political ideologies.
While changes of leadership within the party have seldom occurred during the assemblies, it has happened, such as Deng Xiaoping taking over at the 12th Congress in 1982 and subsequently transforming China into a global socialist power. While the 1982 Congress was certainly one of the more interesting and progressive meetings in the party’s history, current President Xi Liaping took control after 2012’s Congress, and is expected to firmly consolidate his power and remain in control. In fact, some are predicting that President Xi will usher in the next great era of Chinese power, as observers describe the 65-year-old as the most powerful Chinese official since Deng Xiaoping, or maybe even since Mao Zedong.
On Wednesday, President Xi opened the Congress with a speech in front of the 2,287 chosen delegates, which was promptly entitled, “Secure a decisive victory in building a moderately prosperous society in all respects and strive for the great success of socialism with Chinese characteristics for a new era.” The current President delivered his address in a manner that lived up to its title, taking no shorter than three hours and twenty-three minutes.
In this speech, President Xi strongly outlined the success of his five-year regime, stating China had “become a great power in the world” and played “an important role in the history of humankind.” He then used this to turn towards the future, getting the delegates excited for the next five years under Xi, stating, “It is time for us to take center stage in the world and to make a greater contribution to humankind”. Amidst uncertainty of Western democracies, President Xi affirmed his ideological confidence in the communist party and said they look strong and unified in comparison. Additionally, he said China would not close its doors to the world, and promised lower barriers for foreign investors, hoping to further grow the economy.
If you had only heard Xi Linping’s speech, you would not be mistaken in thinking the entirety of the country was unified and resolute in its growth. Chen Daoyin, a political scientist from Shanghai, believes this very Congress will usher in the third great political regime since Mao Zedong brought communism to China. According to Daoyin, Mao, the revolutionary figure, represents the first epoch and Deng Xiaoping, the reformer, further strengthened China in helping it become wealthy. Now, according to Daoyin and other Chinese analysts, Xi Liaping is bringing in the third. Xi has been tightening his control over the party for the last five years, and now has the most power any Chinese leader has had in decades, perhaps even since Mao Zedong. While this is shown in positive light at the Congress, it could also be interpreted as negative.
President Xi spoke of measures to increase party discipline, and brought up a corruption crackdown that has punished more than a million Chinese officials. Additionally, he warned against separatism, affirming that Taiwan is a part of China and referencing recent political movements in Xinjiang, Tibet, and Hong Kong.
So how important is the 19th Congress? I believe it is massively significant, especially given the time period. Chinese officials make it seem like the gathering is a mere celebration and outline of Chinese strength and unity; however, I believe it is a move to tighten grip amongst fear of party separation. In recent months, independence movements have become very relevant worldwide. In September, Iraqi Kurds voted overwhelmingly for independence from Iraq in a controversial referendum. Days later, on October 1st, Catalonia voted overwhelmingly for independence from Spain in a controversial referendum. Both were met with violence and push-back from their respective countries. President Xi is well aware of these movements across the world, and used the Congress to deliver a warning to Taiwan, and other regions like Hong Kong, stating that Beijing has the will and power to stop any attempts at independence.
With the meetings only just the beginning, the Chinese Communist Party Congress will run until next Tuesday. Given the global influence China has, the rest of the world will be anxiously waiting to see what happens, not just in the next week, but in the next decade, as one of the world’s most powerful leaders attempts to bring China to its greatest height.