Xi will be in global focus as leader of one half of what is no more a unipolar world dominated by the US
There is a distinct Orwellian touch to the drama of Xi Jinping gearing up for an unprecedented third term as Chairman of the Chinese Communist Party, President of China and supreme commander of the People’s Liberation Army. Some of the world’s most sophisticated mass electronic surveillance technologies, enhanced by artificial intelligence, are backing ‘Big Brother’ to sustain constant vigil on 1.4 billion Chinese citizens even as “Zero Covid” measures are helping to reinforce a control-freakish system obsessed with security and social stability.
The speech of the modern-day emperor, who will continue to be the chairman of everything, at the 20th party congress in the Great Hall of the People, marked by an atmosphere of sycophancy, contained 50 references to “security”, which means the rest of the world may have to tighten seat belts and settle for a bumpy 5-year ride. In taking up the Taiwan issue head-on early in his speech, Xi made it clear that a military conquest of the self-ruling island is not ruled out while China would still pursue the means to convince the Taiwanese to accept Chinese rule.
The text of his 104-minute speech will no doubt be printed and distributed, first to the 96 million members of the party that reigns supreme in China, but whose term limits and restrictions on personality cults have been cast to the winds in elevating Xi Jinping to Mao-like stature. While his aim is said to be to uphold the supremacy of the CPC, Xi will still be in global focus as leader of one half of what is no more a unipolar world dominated by the US.
The Chinese people may, to an extent, be complicit in their acceptance of stability over individual rights and firmer belief in the potency of their national mission. But the tactics of quelling critics, micromanaging businesses in what Xi terms as a “socialist marketplace”, exploiting nationalist fervour and preparing to isolate China while erecting a wall between China and the rest of the world, with Covid as the chief excuse, may ultimately work against the country’s economy.
Xi signalled that economic growth — China’s economy boomed in his 10 years with per capita GDP doubling from $5,190 to $11,283 — may be tempered by headwinds and that priorities going forward after “winning the greatest battle against human poverty in history” would be to maintain the socialist framework and aim for common prosperity and equality of opportunity while working to avoid extremes of inequality. Measured against that must be youth unemployment that is thought to be climbing to 20 per cent even as more State interference in business is a given.
While much of his speech would have been aimed at holding the attention of his captive audience of a billion plus people, what the rest of the world would have to worry about is the continuation of the regime’s abrasive foreign policy and the emphasis Xi has stated in building up the PLA for “victories” in battlefields. Taiwan, the South China Sea where China has built up a massive military presence, the tensions over the Indo-Pacific region, and India, which would have noted the prominent presence of a Galwan skirmish survivor in the party congress, would be left with feelings of anxiety after trenchant views were expressed.