The era of Emperor Xi Jinping has been declared. The Chinese president labelled himself the most powerful leader after the great Mao Zedong at the 19th Communist Party Congress. His name will be enshrined within the party constitution, an honor only Mao and Deng Xiaoping have enjoyed. His beliefs will be taught to the 1.3 billion Chinesepeople under his control. The eyes of the world are focused on the future of this superpower, and the consequences it will bring.
▲ The Great leaders of China—Mao Zedong, Deng Xiaoping, and Xi Jinping. PROVIDED BY SHUTTERSTOCK.
Xi Dada—the friendly name for Xi used by the young Chinese people who consider him to be a warm father—has transformed into Emperor Xi. The 19th Communist PartyCongress, which ended on October 24, has introduced some changes to the political scene. The Communist Party Congress is held every five years to appoint new members of the Politburo Standing Committee, which is the most powerful decision-making body in the country. The newly appointed members will, alongside Xi, take control of the next five years ofthe ancient country. However, this year’s congress meant much more.Three topics caught the interest of the press.
The first was that Xi chose to inserthis name into the party’s constitution. The president introduced Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era—Xi Jinping Thought, in short—which represents his political theory. Above all, it is a continuation of Deng Xiaoping’s theory in that it attempts to balance the Marxist-Leninist elements of Mao Zedong’s philosophy with the opening of markets to accelerate modernization. On top of this, Xi Jinping Thought emphasizes scientific development to address the contemporary characteristics of China.
Only two of the country’s greatestleaders have been given this honor before: Mao Zedong, the father of the nation, and Deng Xiaoping, whoopened a new chapter of economic development for China. It shows that Xi believes himself to be a leader who can rub shoulders with these two, something which his predecessors Hu Jintao and Jiang Zemin failed to do.
It was also notable that Xi chose not to mark a successor. After Deng, it has been an implicit tradition for each president to mark a successor in the party congress after the end of their first term. Since Xi is expected to step down in 2022, it was his time to follow the tradition. However, the age of the newly appointed Committee members indicates that Xi is not planning for a successor. They are all over the age of 60 and ready for retirement after their term with Xi. Many have expressed their concerns that the beloved leader of China is starting to realize his dictatorial ambitions.
Finally, Xi revealed the Great Dreamof China, which emerged as the theme of the entire party congress, arousing the curiosity of the world in terms of how it will affect China’s economic and political performance. The Granite Tower (GT) will attempt to analyze this dream from three perspectives—economic, political, and international relations.
The Great Dream of China—Economic Aspects
The Great Dream of China has three stages: the complete emergenceof a Xiaokang society, leaping into the ranks of developed countries, and finally playing a leading role in the international arena. Interestingly, in the 19th party congress, Xi set specific dates for each step of this dream. The first step is scheduled for completionby 2020. Xiaokang society is a term Deng started to use in the late 1970s to represent a state in which all of China’s citizens are “moderately prosperous”. It was Deng’s dream to create a functioning middle class with his economic reforms.
▲ Professor Lee Jung-Nam. PHOTOGRAPHED BY CHO EUN BYUL.
The fact that Xi declared he would complete this by 2020 demonstrates his confidence in how close China is to reaching this goal. China has experienced rapid modernization and now generates around 15 percent of the world’s gross domestic product (GDP). Xi also identified a contradiction that needed to be tackled during his era. During Deng’s reign, the sharp contrast between thepublic’s increasing materialistic demands and the poor productivity of the nation needed to be addressed; during Xi’s era, the main contradiction lies between the people’s desire for a beautiful life and the country’s insufficient and imbalanced development.
Professor Lee Jung-Nam, the director of the Center for Chinese Studies in the Asiatic Research Institute of Korea University (KU) interprets this new divide as an admission that China remains asemi-advanced country. Deng’s economic policies failed to keep pace with issues of culture, income distribution, and the environment, but change is just beyond the horizon. For a country that has been heavily criticized for being the main polluter of the global environment, the fact that Xi Jinping Thought stresses the importance of contributing to global ecological safety as one of its 14 policies indeed proves the determination for change.
After achieving a complete Xiaokang society, the next step is to reach the status of a developed country in every respect by 2035. According to Professor Lee, this 2035 deadline is 15 years earlier than what Deng proposed. Economic growth will still be a priority, though at tempts to enhance technology, alleviate regional and social polarization, and increase soft power will also be pursued. Finally, based on this modernization, China plans to surpass the United States (U.S.) and become the leading international superpower by 2050.
Mighty Emperor Xi—PoliticalAspects
The economic ambitions Xi announced have raised the expectations of investors all over the world, but the biggest talking point of this year’s congress was the political reforms the president has chosen topush through. To lead the country into a new era distinct from that of Maoand Deng, Xi has claimed an immense amount of power and influence for himself, which has worried many foreign observers. Commenting on the political changes that Xi wants to implement, The Financial Times (FT) stated that “China has regressed to become the worst autocratic state ofthe past 40 years.”
Immortalizing himself in the party’s constitution was merely a symbolic gesture. It is vital to understand the actual process required to do so to appreciate his new political status. As mentioned above, President Xi chose not to follow the old tradition and mark a successor. This is one of the main reasons why the foreign press suspects that he has dictatorial ambitions. However, Professor Lee believes it to be more of a way to control the next generation and pit its members against each other to cement his position as China’s leader in the new era.
Of course, if Xi successfully finishes his term and earns greater support from his people, there is a chance he could attempt to establish permanent leadership. The continued influence Xi may be able to exercise even after he steps down in 2022 is also a concern. Yet, for now, not marking a successor seems more like a move to avoid being threatened byan up-and-comer. Regarding a possible dictatorship, Lee says, “It is a different time compared to Mao or Deng. There is a system to prevent the sort of dogmatic leadership they demonstrated, and Xi will not be able to ignore the eyes of his people and the world.”
Other appointments have also beenan issue. The Politburo Standing Committee has several new faces, but the composition of its members seems well balanced in terms of the political factions represented. However, the Politburo and the Central Committee are now dominated by Xi’s retainers, thus precluding any kind of challenge to his power. Hence, the party congress has given him free rein during his term to accomplish the goals he has set, despite the criticism about the potential for a dictatorship.
The Dragon Has Awakened—International Relations
As can be seen from the increasinguse of the phrase Group of Two (G2), China’s position in the international arena has been greatly strengthened over the past few years—with its power even comparable with that of the U.S. Based on China's rapid economic development, it has attempted to slowly increase its global influence. This strategy will be more active after the 19th congress. In his speech, Xi declared, “China’s diplomacy will proceed above a new internationalrelationship.”
Understanding this new international strategy is key tounders tanding how China will linfluence the world in the future. Nocutnews speculated that what Xi essentially meant by this “new relationship” is the absence of aleading country in the internationalarena, with the U.S. vacating the postafter the election of Donald Trump.Under the new international order,China will slowly take over a leadingrole, a responsibility that hadpreviously fallen to the U.S.
It is also expected that China will adopt a slightly more aggressive stance in diplomacy, and the One-Belt-One-Road project will be the center of this. The basic notion of the One-Belt-One-Road project is to build a 21st century Silk Road that redirects the trading routes of Eurasian countries on land and at sea towards China. This has been Xi’s desire since 2013, and already many routes have been developed in collaboration with nearby countries. With this colossal project, China is expanding their influence in the Eurasian continent—the profit they will earn from the project issure to be immense.
China’s new diplomatic stance is predicted to terminate the recent icy atmosphere with South Korea. It is obvious that Korea’s participation is vital for the success of the One-Belt-One-Road project. The benefit Chinacan reap from rebuilding a cooperative relationship with Korea far exceeds the losses they had to bear over the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) missile controversy. According to KBS News, Geng Shuang, the spokesman of the Foreign Office of China, stated that “China is willing to overcome the current obstacles that its relationship with Korea is facing.”
The relationship between the two countries is entering an interesting phase, which is why Professor Lee emphasized the importance of keenly observing the actions of Xi and his country. From her perspective, although Korea relies heavily on the U.S. for its national security, it is impossible to advance economically without a healthy relationship with China. Now is the time for balanced diplomacy between the two colliding Asian superpowers to ensure Korea’s continued survival. No matter how idealistic this may sound, the truth is that the Korean government simply does not have many choices left.
▲ The 19th National Party Congress. PROVIDED BY BROOKINGS INSTITUTION