CPC’s 20th Congress

Xi–The Red Emperor

Sankar Ray

The seven-day long 20th National Congress of the Communist Party of China (CPC) at  the Great Hall of the People in Beijing ended without really creating any international impact. The foreign ministry of the People’s Republic of China in a press communiqué claimed that the much awaited Congress was ‘a successful conclusion’ with the election of ‘a new CPC Central Committee and a new Central Commission for Discipline Inspection and passing the Resolution on the Report of the 19th CPC Central Committee, the Resolution on the Work Report of the Central 19th for Discipline Inspection and the Resolution on the Commission Revised Constitution of the Communist Party of China.’ The third five-year term with suitable changes in the party constitution for the CPC general secretary Xi Jinping who is the President of PRC too, was a fait accompli. In fact, unless very uncertain things happen, he may stay on at the helm as long as he wishes. More interestingly albeit not unexpectedly, the jamboree with 2338 of 2378 elected and specially-invited delegates, having attended the Congress, condescendingly endorsed the tradition of personality cult that began 77 years ago at the seventh congress of CPC when Liu Shao Chi introduced and got okayed a resolution in the party constitution endorsing Mao Tse-tung Thought as an ideological adjunct to Marxism-Leninism. “Everyone of us in the Party must hold high the great banner of socialism with Chinese characteristics and develop a deep understanding of the decisive significance of establishing Comrade Xi Jinping’s core position on the Party Central Committee and in the Party as a whole and establishing the guiding role of Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era. We must resolutely uphold Comrade Xi Jinping’s core position on the Central Committee and in the Party as a whole and fully implement Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era”, the press communiqué stated.

The seven- member Politburo Standing Committee, China’s ruling apex, above the 205-member Central Committee, has no women. The four new entrants, all Xi-loyalists are Shanghai CPC head Li Qiang who oversaw its disastrous Zero Covid lockdowns, Beijing chief Cai Qi, and Guangdong province's Ding Xuexiang and Li Xi. In the wider 24-member politburo, more than half were replaced with Xi’s adherents.

Li was named number two in the PSB, shunting out Li Keqiang as premier, although technically he is to retire in March 2023. BBC's China correspondent Stephen McDonnell banteringly told the Today Show: that the seven-member apex, ‘stacked with Xi Jinping loyalists’ seems to show that ‘now loyalty to Xi Jinping trumps proven ability. There had been an argument that the Chinese system is one of meritocracy, it would be hard to stand that up now if you look at the people who have been given roles on that politburo standing committee’.

Xi’s factional consolidation is explicit. The sudden exit of his predecessor Hu Jintao, during the last session of the Congress was its clear reflection. Sitting beside Xi, he had a brief but visibly tensed conversation with the CPC supremo before he was escorted out of the venue—officially because he wasn’t feeling well but video footage shows his displeasure.

Aside from Li Qiang, set to take over as the Prime Minister, Zhao Leji, in-charge of tasks towards anti-corruption and discipline, Wang Huning, head of implementing for party (Xi’s) ideology, Cai Qi, the current party secretary of Beijing, Ding Xuexiang, director of the general office of the CCP plus office of the President and Li Xi, party secretary of Guangdong province are Xi’s main sidekicks.

The distribution of roles within the PSC is yet to be spelt out. Xi, who, like his predecessors, holds the positions of President of PRC, general secretary of the CPC and chairman of the Central Military Commission concurrently.

Undeniably, notable successes have been achieved in curbing corruption and almost complete elimination of people, living below poverty line. ‘Chill penury’ was very much present during the Mao era, especially when the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution was in full swing. But the in-egalitarianism has risen disturbingly. According to Ilaria Mazzocco of Center for Strategic and International Studies rising inequality is obstructing China’s prosperity. The leadership has touted inequality as a top priority to be tackled through its Common Prosperity initiative, but this goal was barely mentioned in the 14th Five-Year Plan. And in the spring of 2022, the economy was dealt a severe blow by extended lockdowns in major cities introduced as part of the leadership’s zero-Covid strategy. All of this will likely worsen inequality and further complicate China’s economic outlook.

 Xi has laid out a vision called 'Common prosperity' aiming at a significant reduction of in-egalitarianism. The gist of his vision, stated in his report of the 19th CC of CPC at the Congress is as follows:

‘None should think that anyone is above the party. No matter how rich you are, the power lies with the party’. This has caused a psychic tremor among the wealthy Chinese who are putting in place plans to move their capital offshore, purchase homes in their intended destination and to acquire citizenship of those countries. A report by the Financial Times of London reveals how worried is the nouveau riche in China over the policy decision on ‘Common Prosperity' at the20th Congress. Some apprehend that instead of the informal 'Common Prosperity' formula that is in place now, the Chinese government may introduce a formal wealth tax. Xi has made no bones of his plan to crack down on what he and the party perceives as infusion of harmful traits in the society, such as prep schools and tuition classes.

However, some western analysts are still skeptical about Xi’s promises. They say bluntly, Xi Jinping himself doesn't understand or even care about the economy, that loyalty to him is what is important and thinks that party discipline and rampant nationalism can fix any problem. There is no denying that Xi focuses mainly on self-reliance in technology, faster military development and protection of Beijing's 'core interests' abroad. The welfarist imperative during China’s post-Mao economic strides remains unaddressed and given a secondary role for years together.

Xi has subtly warned the Taiwan rulers (read the US President Joe Biden and top western leaders) of using force to amalgamate Taiwan with mainland China. But financial experts and diplomats take it as no more than a verbal missile. Former British diplomat Charles Parton, currently a fellow of the Council on Geostrategy, the Royal United Services Institute and the Mercator Institute for China Studies, in an article in FT said that Xi should be cautioned by western leaders that threatening Taiwan would have adverse economic consequences. The Chinese invasion of Taiwan is bound to be retaliated by the USA which would block the Malacca and Sunda straits, the channel of oil supplies from the Middle East to China. The ship owners too would oblige the US rulers in such an eventuality. Strategically and militarily too, it would be detrimental to China. “The 100 nautical miles of rough seas, only 14 beaches on which to land men and materials and Taiwan’s mountainous topography all favour the defence. After a slow start, Taipei is moving towards a ‘porcupine’ defence, which acknowledges Chinese superiority in conventional arms and relies on small, mobile platforms. These are difficult to knock out and would inflict considerable casualties” he wrote.

True, nothing is more important to President Xi than implementing the Chinese dream to replace the US as the pre-eminent global power and redraw the world map in line with its interests and values. It is an unnecessary risk, if he is indeed convinced by his own slogan that ‘the east is rising, the west is declining.’ Better to wait. The ex-diplomat remembers the Delphic oracle warning Croesus that, ‘if he invaded Persia, an empire would fall; leaders have succumbed to the blindness of hubris.’

Moreover, China should in its own interest not be hostile toTaiwan pointed out Parton. The Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company is the largest manufacturer r of the world’s most hi-tech semiconductors. The TSMC CEO C C Wei made it known that the company whose annual revenue crossed US$ 57 billion would never go into Chinese hands as China is yet to be able to manufacture a well-aimed missile that the Americans possess and just banning of the sale of the materials, machinery and parts would be enough to stop China from dreaming to take over TSMC. And most of Taiwan’s nearly $200bn exports to China are components in China’s own exports.

Lastly—pertaining to the Taiwan issue- it was never a part of China before the end of the 17th Century. The Imperial China launched a successful blue-sea naval campaign against Taiwan in 1683. It was one of the most complex and hazardous sea battles before modern times. “The mainland Chinese expeditionary forces commanded by Admiral Shi Lang first decisively defeated the Zheng fleets at Penghu, or known as the Pescadores in the West, and then compelled the Ming loyalists on Taiwan to accept unconditional surrender. Admiral Shi’s skills, bravery, and experiences were surely indispensable for the victory, which not only secured imperial China’s political legitimacy by eliminating the last bastion of the Ming loyalists but also firmly acquired a strategic island off the mainland coast”, wrote Young-tsu Wong in his well-researched book, ‘China’s Conquest of Taiwan in the Seventeenth Century Victory at Full Moon’.

Is Taiwan Chinese? It is pompous to say that Taiwan has been part of China since millennia. As a matter of fact, Taiwan could have gone a number of different directions, such as a Spanish or Dutch colony or an independent maritime kingdom. But it truly and specifically became a part of China in the seventeenth century, 92 years before the birth of the United States, and its destiny has since been inseparable from Mainland China.

The accusation that post-Mao China witnessed capitalist growth as if Mao and China under his stewardship was against capitalism. Mao —as far known to and read by this writer-never gave a call for terminating or preventing capitalism. He wrote in On New Democracy (section VI): "In the new-democratic republic under the leadership of the proletariat, the state enterprises will be of a socialist character and will constitute the leading force in the whole national economy, but the republic will neither confiscate capitalist private property in general nor forbid the development of such capitalist production as does not ‘dominate the livelihood of the people’, for China's economy is still very backward." His tirade against Liu Shaoqi, Deng Xiaoping and others as ‘capitalist roader’ during the GPCR was hypocritical.

In the age of imperialism, going by the Leninist vision, the era of old type of bourgeois democratic revolution that paves the way for capitalism, has long been discarded by the Marxists.

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Vol 55, No. 20, Nov 13 - 19, 2022