From 16 to 22 October, the Communist Party of China (CPC) held its 20th National Congress. The aim was not only to elect the new party leadership (and in fact, this was the main focus of the Western media coverage, apart from, of course, a few “sensations” to which I will refer later) but above all to evaluate the last 5 years of the party’s work for the country and to set out prospects for the future, projects and plans.
When Xi Jinping became the Secretary-General in 2012, he began to implement the provisions of the 18th Congress, i.e. primarily the fight against corruption, the need for which was emphasised by the retiring Hu Jintao.
Xi has pursued this task very vigorously, announcing a fight with both “tigers and flies” – that is, big and small officials, businessmen and officers. Even former Politburo Standing Committee member Zhou Yongkang (who was expelled from the party and sentenced to life imprisonment), Bo Xilai (who was party leader in Chongqing; considered by Western media a member of the neo-Maoist faction), or Sun Zhengcai (who was by many Western media outlets considered the future leader of China and Xi Jinping’s successor as Secretary General) were not spared.
During the 19th Party Congress in 2017, the greatest emphasis was placed on fighting extreme poverty in China. As expected, Xi Jinping was elected for a second term as the party’s Secretary General. The anti-poverty effort was again pursued with Xi’s characteristic focus. The success of this campaign was announced in November 2020, and despite the ongoing pandemic, China has announced having completely eradicated extreme poverty – a remarkable achievement in human history.
The aforementioned COVID-19 pandemic that broke out in China in late 2019 and spread rapidly around the world, overshadowed China’s incredible success in fighting poverty. The Chinese government has taken decisive action by adopting a zero-Covid policy, i.e. one of zero tolerance for virus transmission. As it turned out, this policy is extremely effective: there are not many infections in China compared to other countries in the world. Of course, new outbreaks of disease break out from time to time, but they are reduced very quickly. The West initially admired China’s efforts in containing the pandemic. But over time, as Western societies began to chafe against restrictions, their media and politicians began to attack the actions of Chinese authorities, and spread rhetoric that it would destroy China’s economy. Admittedly, as a result of a series of lockdowns (including the lockdown in Shanghai in early 2022, i.e. the country’s huge port), China’s economic growth slowed to just 3%. This figure, however, must be compared to the economies of Western countries that fell into recession.
By far the most interesting person in the new PSC is Wang Huning. He is widely regarded as China’s most influential intellectual
In addition, as Xi Jinping himself has repeatedly emphasised, the zero-Covid policy is primarily about putting people first. The West has instead adopted a policy that is best described as an “acceptable number of deaths” (i.e. we agree that the old and the sick will die as a result of COVID, which will be good for the system because they generate costs – treatment, benefits, etc.). China, on the other hand, decided that any contamination with COVID, even among vaccinated people (i.e. far less likely to cause death), is unacceptable, because the virus damages the human body, and besides, allowing free transmission favours the formation of new mutations. The zero-Covid policy also has a basis in Chinese culture, where many people live with their parents, that is, the elderly. So, this policy aims to protect all family members. In my own opinion, it is an expression of enormous humanism.
However, the 19th CPC Congress caught the attention of Western commentators mainly due to the composition of the seven-member Politburo Standing Committee (PSC) – the party’s highest decision-making body. According to ‘tradition’ which was invented by the Western media (and was never included in the party’s constitution), this was to be Xi Jinping’s last term in office and the Politburo Standing Committee ought to include at least one leader about 10 years younger than Xi to replace him as Secretary-General five years later. However, this did not happen: all members of the PSC were at least 60 years old. Again, according to the “seven-up, eight-down” rule – also invented by Western commentators (i.e. when a politician is 67 years old, they stay in the PSC, and when 68, they retire) – most of the PSC members were due to end their political careers in 2022.
China’s zero-Covid policy is primarily about putting people first. The West has instead adopted a policy that is best described as an “acceptable number of deaths” (i.e. we agree that the old and the sick will die as a result of COVID, which will be good for the system because they generate costs – treatment, benefits, etc.)
Looking for sensation, the Western media in 2022 wondered if Xi would keep his position at the 20th Party Congress. There were comments that due to the increased “media activity” of Prime Minister Li Keqiang, he could replace him (because he is 67 years old) and “restore normality” (i.e. better relations with the West).
At the end of September, mainly on Twitter, there was a widespread rumour that Xi Jinping is “under house arrest”, and a coup was underway in Beijing against his rule. As it soon turned out, this was information disseminated by the Falun Gong sect and duplicated mainly on Indian Twitter among fanatical BJP supporters. All the confusion was based on Xi’s long absence from the media. But the simplest explanation is usually the best: on 15 September, Xi participated in his first foreign visit since COVID began, traveling to Samarkand in Uzbekistan, for the Meeting of the Council of Heads of State of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation. So, after returning to the country, according to the rules, he had to undergo quarantine. A similar situation took place during the 20th CPC Congress, when Vice President Wang Qishan did not appear among the delegates – and this was not because he “fell out of favour”, “was purged” or other nonsensical speculation, but because a few days earlier, he left for an official visit to Kazakhstan.
Shortly before the start of the 20th Congress, the United States decided to test China’s patience. On 7 October, the Biden administration imposed a sweeping set of export controls that included measures to cut China off from certain semiconductor chips and chip-making equipment. China, of course, is technologically backward when it comes to chip production, but the reader must bear in mind that Chinese production accounts for about 60% of world chip production. However, knowing China’s determination to achieve its goals (including technological independence), the Biden administration’s decision will rather force China to achieve chip self-sufficiency at an even faster rate than Beijing first assumed. Moreover, it is worth noting that these new sanctions are now hurting US firms more than China: Intel (INTC) was down 56%; Micron (MU) was down 50% and Nvidia (NVDA) was down 69%.
On 16 October, the 20th National Congress of the Communist Party of China was opened. At the very beginning, in an almost two-hour speech, Secretary General Xi Jinping presented the report of the 19th Central Committee of the Communist Party of China, which summarised the last five years, but also set targets for a future for the party as well as for the whole of China.
Shortly before the start of the 20th Congress, the United States decided to test China’s patience. On 7 October, the Biden administration imposed a sweeping set of export controls that included measures to cut China off from certain semiconductor chips and chip-making equipment
In the initial phase of the report, Xi summarised the last five years – including the emphasis on managing the unrest in Hong Kong, and condemning what were described as US provocations in Taiwan. ”Throughout these endeavours, we have safeguarded China’s dignity and core interests and kept ourselves well-positioned for pursuing development and ensuring security,” he said.
However, Xi also made what was seen as self-criticism (after all, he has been in charge of the Party for the last 10 years): ”Inside the Party, there were many issues with respect to upholding the Party’s leadership, including a lack of clear understanding and effective action as well as a slide toward weak, hollow, and watered-down Party leadership in practice.” He criticised the party’s bureaucracy and the still existing corruption, as well as the willingness of party members to gain positions. He also emphasised problems in the economic system (high social inequalities) and took aim also at some aspects of the general mentality: warning of the cult of money, historical nihilism, etc.
Throughout his speech, Xi insists on the ideological aspect: “We have established and maintained a fundamental system ensuring the guiding role of Marxism in the ideological sphere.” Over the course of the speech, Marxism is mentioned 33 times.
As for the plans for the next five years and the broader future, the report emphasised the need to further develop the economy, improve it and increase self-sufficiency (especially in the face of the West’s attitude towards China). He stressed the need to develop agriculture in order to maintain self-sufficiency and food independence. The development of education and technology will become one of the priority aspects: “We will fully implement the strategy to revitalise China through science and education, the workforce development strategy, and the innovation-driven development strategy.”
In the social aspect, in addition to promoting morality and socialist culture, the report emphasises the ‘common prosperity’ campaign: “the income distribution system is the basic system for promoting common welfare.” He also assured the need for full employment and the construction of a better social security system.
The party’s goals for the near future also include environmental goals. “Nature provides the basic conditions for human survival and development. Respect, adaptation and the protection of nature are essential to transform China into a modern, socialist country in all respects.”
“National security is the basis of national revival, and social stability is a prerequisite for building a strong and prosperous China,” he said – which clearly underlines the challenges facing China both externally and internally.
In the end, he emphasised the essence of the party’s involvement in real efforts to achieve these goals: ”The times are calling us, and the people expect us to deliver. Only by pressing ahead with unwavering commitment and perseverance will we be able to answer the call of our times and meet the expectations of our people […] Let us keep in mind that empty talk will do nothing for our country; only solid work will make it flourish.”
Throughout his speech, Xi insists on the ideological aspect: “We have established and maintained a fundamental system ensuring the guiding role of Marxism in the ideological sphere.” Over the course of the speech, Marxism is mentioned 33 times
The 20th National Congress of the Communist Party of China ended on Saturday, 22 October 2022. During the last day of the congress, the delegates elected the Party’s authorities: the Central Committee, which then proceeded to elect a seven-person group (although this number is not constant, in the years 2002-2012 the PSC consisted of nine members) from among its members – the Politburo Standing Committee (PSC).
Western media, almost immediately after the publication of the list of members of the Central Committee, pointed out that Prime Minister Li Keqiang was not there, nor was Wang Yang, who, due to his economic liberalism (as well as age – 67), was selected by them to be the new Chinese prime minister. Both politicians, however, retired.
On Sunday, 23 October, the new PSC was presented to the Chinese people and the foreign media at a press conference. The following were elected to the new Politburo Standing Committee: Xi Jinping (for the third time the General Secretary of CPC), Li Qiang, Zhao Leji, Wang Huning, Cai Qi (he took the position of First Secretary of the Central Secretariat of the CCP), Ding Xuexiang, Li Xi (assumed the position of Secretary of the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection).
Of course, almost immediately, the Western media hailed the new PSC as “Xi’s total centralisation of power” and claimed that he placed “loyal people” in it. They also focused on the fact that Xi Jinping was re-elected as the Secretary-General, which, according to them, was a “breach of tradition.” However, the truth is that the Party never had this rule – Hu Jintao was the only CPC Secretary-General to serve for exactly two five-year terms (Mao Zedong: 27 years; Hua Guofeng: 5 years; Hu Yaobang: 4 years; Zhao Ziyang: 2 years; Jiang Zemin: 13 years; Hu Jintao: 10 years). Immediately the Western press began to call Xi the “new emperor” or the “second Mao”, even though Western leaders have commonly been holding positions for more than two terms: US President Franklin D. Roosevelt ruled for 12 years (died during his fourth term), Chancellor of Germany Angela Merkel ruled for four terms, Prime Minister of Spain Felipe Gonzalez served for four terms, and so on.
Of course, the rest of the PSC have also been criticised in the West as “Xi loyalists” – implying that they are people with no opinion of their own, “remote-controlled” etc.
In the current style of Western reporting on Chinese politics, which is reminscent of the Cold War era, much in the way of facts and nuance is lost. But perhaps the most self-defeating inaccuracy comes when they report on the new Chinese leadership: they are people who are very highly educated and have shown management prowess and incredible political acumen.
Willy Lam, from the Jamestown Foundation (a U.S. think tank) describes Li Qiang to Reuters as “mediocre”, because (as he said) “we have not seen Li Qiang introduce any market-oriented reforms [when he was party chief in Shanghai].” In general, he is being presented as an “anti-market” figure, but this panicked analysis of Western commentators is completely wrong. Li Qiang is a native of Wenzhou, one of China’s highest-income cities. He started his political career in Wenzhou as party secretary. Following that, with an MBA from Hong Kong Polytechnic University, one of Asia’s best, he worked with Xi in Zhejiang, became governor of the province in 2013 and in 2017 advanced to party secretary of Shanghai. He made possible the development of high-tech industries and financial and technological innovation in the Shanghai Special Economic Zone his hallmark achievement. Even Reuters itself had to admit that Shanghai private entrepreneurs had fond memories of him. One of them recalls: “He [Li Qiang] attended to our case and cleared the unnecessary regulatory obstacles for us, even though we were just a small private company.” Of course, it is recalled that he “badly managed the terrible lockdown” of Shanghai earlier this year. He is accused of imposing more than a month’s “imprisonment” on the city’s inhabitants. Nothing could be more wrong! Li Qiang delayed the imposition of pandemic restrictions despite the spreading pandemic – it was only when the government sent Deputy Prime Minister Sun Chunlan (a remarkable woman with great charisma and much experience, starting her career as secretary of the largest trade union in the world) that she forced the city authorities to immediately impose a hard lockdown. Li was one of Jack Ma’s most visible supporters in the Communist Party leadership. He brought Elon Musk’s Tesla to Shanghai. His nomination to the PSC is therefore not in my opinion a process that simply “promotes the loyal Shanghai Chief”, but part of a larger strategy – i.e. to bet on high-tech industry in the next five years.
It is worth noting the promotion of Chen Jining and Li Ganjie to the central committee (Chen also became the new party leader in Shanghai). Their promotion is important as it shows the party’s turn toward ecology
The next person in the party is Zhao Leji, who was already a member of the previous PSC. Zhao Leji has his roots in two impoverished western provinces – Shaanxi, his ancestral home, and Qinghai, where in 2000 he became the youngest provincial governor in the country. He has a really great experience in managing administration. He has been head of the party’s top anti-corruption watchdog, the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection.
The next – and by far the most interesting person in the new PSC – is Wang Huning (also like Zhao, he was a member of the 19th PSC). He is widely regarded as China’s most influential intellectual. He served the ideological advisor of three successive Secretaries-General: Jiang Zemin, Hu Jintao and now Xi Jinping. At just 29, he was named the youngest professor in China. He became a professor of international politics and dean of the law faculty at Fudan University. While observing the economic reforms in China in the 1980s, he saw the dangers of this, which is why in his articles he called for the inclusion of Confucianism and specifically Chinese history alongside the education on Marxism. Moreover, he has been key in emphasising the need for strong leadership at the head of the Party.”Although Chinese political culture has changed dramatically since ancient times, it cannot be said to have changed completely. This traditional mechanism still exists today and continues to play an important role” – he wrote.
In 1988, after returning from a half-year research trip to the USA, Wang wrote the book America Against America, in which he saw that the main threat to the US is the collapse of American society devoid of any values and mired in a capitalist and individualist drive that looks only for profit. In fact, he also predicted the social conflicts that emerged after President Trump came to power – decades before the current time!
The fifth person after Xi Jinping in the new composition of the Standing Committee of the Politburo of the CPC Central Committee is Cai Qi. He replaced Wang Huning at the head of the CPC Secretariat – a technical post dealing with the party organisation, which means that he will also be responsible for organizing the next Party Congress in five years in 2027. Cai was born in Fujian and joined the CCP in 1975. He worked in his native province for 19 years before becoming the mayor of the small city of Sanming in 1996. He was reassigned to Zhejiang Province in 1999 and spent 15 years working his way up to the post of Deputy Provincial Governor. In 2016 he became mayor of Beijing, and in 2017 he became party secretary in Beijing. In the capital, he has demonstrated his work against illegal residences promoted by private groups, especially after the construction disaster in Beijing Daxing on November 18, 2017. Thanks to his actions, many lives were saved.
Another figure of significance – and at the same time the youngest, because he is 60 – in the PSC is Ding Xuexiang. He studied mechanical engineering and began his career as a researcher at the Shanghai Research Institute of Materials. Ding served as Xi’s political secretary when he was Shanghai party chief in 2007. Since 2017, he has been the Director of the General Office of the Communist Party (the office is responsible for the development and dissemination of party ordinances and internal notes, as well as the classification of party information).
The last, seventh member of the PSC is Li Xi. He has risen steadily in the party through positions across China, in Shaanxi, Shanghai and Liaoning provinces. He originally studied Chinese language and literature, but more recently did an MBA at Tsinghua University. Before taking office in the PSC, he headed the party in Guangdong Province. There he was responsible for the development of the Greater Bay Area – a huge integrated economic project between nine cities and two special administrative regions in southern China. He was appointed Secretary of the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection.
Aside from other reflections after the 20th CPC Congress, it is worth noting the promotion of Chen Jining and Li Ganjie to the central committee (Chen also became the new party leader in Shanghai). Their promotion is important as it shows the party’s turn toward ecology. Chen studied environmental science at Tsinghua, and at Imperial College London and is a renowned environmental scientist. Li, on the other hand, was the minister of the environment. One of the delegates at the congress, the current Deputy Minister of Environment Zhai Qing, emphasised at the press conference: ”China will further improve the quality of ecology and environment, promote comprehensive ecological change in economic and social development, and accelerate the creation and improvement of a modern environmental management system.”
Rather than focusing on the substantive aspects of the Congress, the Western media, commentators and politicians have focused on extremely unimportant issues. In comments on Congress, both politicians from the European Union and the Pentagon issued remarkably similar (who would have expected?) statements calling China a “competitor that is promoting an alternative vision of the world order.”
However, the last day of Congress attracted by far the most attention, during which former President Hu Jintao was led out of the hall (it was ignored, of course, that he was also led into the room by a steward due to mobility problems). It was announced almost immediately that Xi Jinping was carrying out “purges.” XinhuaAgency confirmed that the former president left due to malaise. As we can see in later recordings (which, of course, was not shown in the Western media) Hu returned to the key vote during which the new Central Committee was elected. Besides, if it were as Western commentators suggest, that “the evil dictator Xi humiliates his predecessor by consolidating power,” it would make no sense – precisely because it happened in front of the cameras. There is great respect for the elders in Chinese culture, and Xi especially promotes such Chinese traditions.
But the thing about propaganda is that it does not have to be logical: its only purpose is to sensationalise and trigger certain behaviors in society – in this case, an ugly anti-Chinese mood in Western societies.
A few days after the Congress, new members of the PSC headed by Xi Jinping went to the Yan’an Revolution Museum, an important centre and historical site for the Communists’ Long March of the 1930s. It is a symbolic gesture showing the role of the revolutionary tradition and the direction of upholding and promoting values not only among the party ranks but throughout Chinese society. At the same time, data on the Chinese economy in the third quarter of 2022 were released, which turned out to be better than expected – 3.9% GDP growth (the growth was expected to be 3.4%). Additionally, no COVID-19-related deaths have been reported in China since 150 days.
Summing up, the 20th National Congress of the Communist Party of China sets very ambitious (self-sufficiency and continuing development) and egalitarian (common welfare policy) goals for the future. Contrary to claims that this is merely a petty consolidation of power by an ‘autocracy’ as Western commentary likes to imagine, the facts of the Congress are that it was a very important affair: where leaders chose a very experienced and disciplined cadre to lead the party and the state in an uncertain global situation.