Much of the coverage surrounding the 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China (CCP) has centred on President Xi Jinping’s consolidation of power and the establishment of the country’s so-called ‘third era’. In a speech that would rival Castro for its prolixity, Xi delineated his successes in the five years since the last conclave and committed to delivering a progressive socialism to ensure that China ‘stands tall and firm in the east’…
Without quite asserting a hegemony in Asia, Xi declared China a ‘mighty force’, and his claim that it ‘does not pose a threat to any other country’ seems ominous, particularly as he also spoke of his desire for greater military strength. He listed the controversial South China Sea island development programme as one of the main accomplishments of his presidency, signalling an intent to continue the supposed militarisation of an area whose sovereignty is greatly contested. Territorial dominion was a consistent theme in his speech, quashing any hopes of separatism in Hong Kong and Taiwan in stating that ‘we will never allow anyone … to separate any part of Chinese territory from China’.
Yet in other ways, Xi’s foreign policy was markedly more progressive and inclusive. He proposed a more collaborative approach to tackling climate change, leading the fight in America’s absence, while also vowing to continue the gargantuan One Belt One Road initiative. This initiative will no doubt provide a massive economic boon to the countries involved (not including America), yet more importantly it also serves to entrench China’s position at the centre of global affairs. There was also no change of party line regarding North Korea, with officials stressing the importance of communication with their volatile neighbours, and Xi was also silent on Japan.
What must be taken into account is the CCP’s careful manipulation of information, whereby ‘even the best-sourced experts can’t discern how policy preferences and objectives shape political coalition’ (Chinafile.com). Therefore any attempt to elucidate the intentions of the most powerful Chinese leader since Mao can seem futile. It is clear though that Xi is commanding the continued ascendance of a China that seeks to dominate not only Asia but also usurp America as the biggest global superpower.