Yesterday China’s 19th National Communist Party Congress closed, officially marking the beginning of President Xi Jinping’s second term as party general secretary (and points towards a likely third!). Furthermore Xi unanimously secured an eponymous amendment to their constitution furthering Deng Xiaoping’s reforms and ideology of the 1980s surrounding his “theory on socialism with Chinese characteristics”. How exactly “Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era” will look, only time will tell. But, further to Xi securing more influence for himself, there was the unavoidable rhetoric for the pursuit of “more balanced economic growth”.
The idea of more balanced growth across demographics and regions is an important one. It signals that Xi now feels more able to confront the established and privileged elite and that the nation must now strive beyond “prosperity for some so as to achieve prosperity for all”. The ebbing crackdown on corruption should continue and special attention towards western and central Chinese states should help address these long marginalised provinces. The announcement of the new Politburo and Politburo Standing Committee today certainly strengthens Xi‘s hand in all this.
The 7-member Committee was today announced as: Xi Jinping, Li Keqiang, Li Zhanshu, Wang Huning, Zhao Leji, Wang Yang and Han Zheng. This new line-up includes a few expected notables such as Premier Li Keqiang and longstanding ally Li Zhanshu; but all of them are within a few years’ of age from President Xi confirming what many have been speculating – that Xi is not obviously lining-up any potential successors. This irregular move breaks with the tradition of predictability that the formal succession process has benefitted from for the past 30 years. That is unless you predict that Xi himself will stand again in 2022 for a further 5-year term.
Wang Qishan, who effectively headed Xi’s anti-corruption campaign, reached the unofficial retiring age, and at 69 stepped aside for Zhao Leji to continue this important role. Had he remained this would have been well deserved; moreover it would have been an even stronger sign that Xi would stand again in 5 years - when he himself will be 69. In further consolidation of power Xi’s chairing of the Central Military Commission (now only 7 members strong) and influence over the People's Liberation Army allows him to continue challenging corruption amidst the military ranks also.
President Xi asserted that, “Innovation is the primary force driving development, and the strategic foundation for building a modern society,” stressing the need for more industrial innovation and economic reforms to strengthen the economy. This, no doubt, will include continuing efforts to lower barriers for international investors and pursuing innovation in advanced industries: everything from engineering and aerospace to digital and genetics. With increasing influence of the likes of the Alibaba (“Chinese Amazon”), Baidu (“Chinese Google”), Xiaomi and Huawei (“Chinese Apple”), Tencent (“Chinese Facebook”) and Weibo (“Chinese Twitter”), there are still plenty of industries where China has yet to make a serious mark on the global scene. And as multinationals continue attempting to penetrate the lucrative Chinese market the world will be watching for the next “Chinese Toyota” (SAIC?), “Chinese Nike” (Li-Ning?), or “Chinese Boeing” (Comac?) etc. to break into the global consumer scene. Amidst all the ongoing uncertainties there is certainly a lot of potential for growing internationalisation and influence from China in the forthcoming 5/10 years. The world will certainly be watching how President Xi’s plans unfold.