Xi Jinping has a plan and believes only he can make it possible. This week, his exhaustive speech during the 19th National Congress of the Communist party of China (CCP) made headlines all over the world. Facing about 2,300 delegates, Xi spoke for 205 minutes.
Those three and half hours have shone a light on the path he’s willing to follow for the next five years. At the last CCP congress, in 2012, he was appointed as China’s new President. Now settled in power, this new monumental meeting was the moment for the man in Beijing to provide his first, real “state of the nation” address.
Until now, the story about Xi is one of a politician who strengthened his rule through a massive campaign tackling corruption. The hunt for “tigers and flies”, as it’s known, has already targeted more than two million officials (according to Japanese newspaper Nikkei Asian Review), thousands of them with high positions in the state apparatus. Moreover, he has replaced most of the party’s leaders and governors of China’s 31 provinces, in addition to the majority of the army’s top command. This has allowed Xi to foster an image of integrity and get rid of political opponents.
Take this purge, take his national and military leadership, and add up his control over several commissions, from economic reform to national security. The result is a beefy combination that gives him tight grip in governing the country. Almost imperially. In Xi’s thought, increasing power makes it easier to lead China exactly where he wants. Obviously, this autocratic endeavor doesn’t come without a strong domestic repression. As The New Yorker magazine notes: “the media are censored and civil society has been silenced”, as well as activists and human rights advocates.
But Xi Jinping’s tale is that of a man appointed with the task of saving the party from corruption. When one states saving the party, it also means keeping the regime up and going. Therefore, apart from the internal cleansing operations, that’s why the man in Beijing has launched a powerful ideological campaign: reinstate support for to the PCC and keep the machine intact.
All of this allows us to better understand the fundamental messages behind Xi’s speech at the latest congress. Domestically, he plans to increase public spending, reinforce the state-owned enterprises, improve public services, whilst squeezing even more internal security to counter possible insurgencies, through increased control over the internet or the use of censorship. There was also room for a call to secessionist hungers, as in Hong Kong: you can rule yourself however you want, as long as it doesn’t move aside from party line.
However, more than Xi Jinping’s “first great speech on domestic politics”, as the Financial Times labeled it, this was a moment to tell the world that China is entering a new era, that China wants to take the lead in the international scene. This is one of the cornerstones in the current Chinese President’s “national rejuvenation” dream – a dream that, in his words, “is a dream about history, present and future”. And the country is not willing to wait for the West, as it offers “a new option for other countries and nations that want to accelerate their development while preserving their independence”, as he stated this week.
The Economist sharply described the figure of Xi Jinping: “he sees himself as the third transformational President” of China, after Mao and Deng Xiaoping. And, internally, the table is set for it to become a reality. At the end of this 19º Congress, we’ll discover the new Politburo Standing Committee, the party’s most important structure and, consequently, the country’s. The new leadership that will emerge, as well as the possibility of introducing a reference to Xi’s thought in the PCC’s constitution (something exclusive to Mao and Deng) are sufficient signs to indicate if the leading man will surpass the usual 10 years in power – and the place that modern Chinese history has for him.