International Forecaster Weekly

China's National Congress: What You Need To Know

... already it seems clear that President Xi is indeed tightening his grip on control of the Party (and thus the country), and that Xi is continuing with his vision of making China into a world superpower in the coming decades.

James Corbett | October 20, 2017

As you may have seen in the news, the China's ruling Communist Party is currently convening its twice-in-a-decade National Congress. And, as you may have also seen in the news, it's kind of a big deal. "Xi Jinping declares China's intent to be a 'leading power' by 2050," warns Business Insider. "China’s leader Xi Jinping declares the start of a 'new era'." screams The Economist. "We are obsessed with Brexit and Trump: we should be thinking about China," chides the Guardian. "But wait, James," you say. "Didn't this just happen a couple of years ago. Weren't you just telling us about the shisanwu?"

Ah, dear reader, I'm glad you're paying attention. Sort of. Actually, that was the the 5th plenary session of its 18th Central Committee, aka the meeting where the ChiComs hammered out China's 13th five-year plan. (But I'm not surprised you remember that catchy shisanwu song!)

This is the National Congress, where the 18th Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party becomes the 19th Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party. You know, the invitation-only shindig where 2,287 of the Party's faithful (only those of "unshakable belief" and the "correct political stance," of course) converge on Beijing's Great Hall of the People to "appoint" the membership of the Party's Politburo, "elect" members to the Central Committee, and "decide" on amendments to the Party's constitution.

Of course, like everything else in the glorious socialist utopia of China, all of the outcomes have been decided beforehand and there will be no surprises whatsoever. But as a forum for formalizing China's (pre-determined) future course, it gives those of us outside the Politburo a glimpse into what shape China will be taking in the coming years.

And, given China's role as the rising economic dragon, rising geopolitical force, rising military threat and rising pawn in the grand plan for the powers-that-shouldn't-be's next "Great War," there are some valuable things to be learned from the proceedings.

So, without further ado, here are seven things you need to know about this week's 19th National Congress.

1) The congress opened with a marathon three-and-a-half hour speech from President Xi. If you're a glutton for punishment and/or mealymouthed political drivel, you can watch the entire thing here! Perhaps the most notable thing about the speech is the introduction of Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era (习近平新时代中国特色社会主义思想). Yes, that is an official term, and yes, it is quite possible that it will be written into the Party's new constitution during the congress, an act which would put him on par with Chairman Mao ("Mao Zedong Thought") and Deng Xiaoping ("Deng Xiaoping Theory.") Xi Thought (in case the full name is a bit of a mouthful) hinges on "14 fundamental principles," ranging from the banal ("Committing to a people centred approach") to the perfectly predictable ("Upholding core socialist values") to the breathtakingly expansive and creepy ("Ensuring party leadership over all work.") The same people who watched the full three-and-a-half-hour speech above may be interested in studying the 14 principles in depth. Happy thinking!

2) The Chinese Communist Party is replacing its "Central Commission for Discipline Inspection" -- currently responsible for policing corruption and meting out punishment within the Party itself -- with a "Supervisory Commission," which is being touted as a type of "superagency, overseeing all inspections of government departments and state-owned firms and institutions as well as within the ruling party." This is part of the "anti-corruption" agenda that has marked the era of Xi Jinping's presidency -- an agenda which, it has been pointed out many times, is really a convenient excuse for Xi to purge his enemies from the party. Now it seems that he'll be able to purge his enemies from the broader institutions of the Chinese government and state-owned economy, as well!

3) As noted above, one of the tasks of the Congress is to appoint members to the Party's 25-member Politburo. These 25 members in turn appoint the seven members of the powerful Politburo Standing Committee, the top leaders of the party. The Committee currently contains President Xi, Premier Li Keqiang and five others, but all five of those remaining members could retire during the congress, leaving the party's leadership open for a nearly total shake-up. This shake-up would be overseen by Xi, and would essentially guarantee his total consolidation of power within the Party.

4) Given the incredible consolidation of power inherent in the (expected) enshrinement of Xi Thought in the party constitution, the creation of the Supervisory Commission for targeting Xi's enemies throughout the government, and the shake-up of the Politburo Standing Committee, there are those speculating that Xi may signal his intention to stay on after his constitutionally-limited 10 years in power is up at the next Party Congress in 2022. Such a move would affirm that he is positioning himself as the single, unquestionable ruler of the world's largest dictatorship, and the most important Chinese leader since Mao.

5) Continuing the Trump admin tradition of playing the "what the hell are we saying this week?" game, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson chided China for "provocative actions" in a speech on Wednesday and CIA chief Mike Pompeo spoke hopefully about China's "incredible capacity to do good around the world" on Thursday. A confused Chinese leadership only just had time to respond to Tillerson before learning of Pompeo's statements, so perhaps they'll just continuing ignoring the Trump team for the rest of the Congress.

6) Shanghai city's communist party has announced plans to make their pilot free trade zone into a free trade port, easing restrictions on incoming cargo. As a result, stocks in the city's stocks (including Port operator Shanghai International Port Group Co. and property developer Shanghai Waigaoqiao Free Trade Zone Group Co.) surged on Friday.

7) The grand old Communist Party is showing its stripes once again by cracking down on reporters and observers of the event, including censoring reports within the country and limiting internet access for the duration of the Congress. Given China's relentless and increasing drive to crack down on the internet, this can hardly be seen as a surprise.

The meeting, which began on October 18th, is expected to continue until October 25th, so there is still plenty of opportunity for (pre-planned) "surprises." But already it seems clear that President Xi is indeed tightening his grip on control of the Party (and thus the country), and that Xi is continuing with his vision of making China into a world superpower in the coming decades. Keep an eye on the official unveiling of China's new leaders at the meeting's conclusion for an indication of where Xi is planning to take the country.

And, of course, stay tuned to in case there are any "surprises" worth reporting.