Why is it important to read the mind of China’s leadership?
Review of the 6th Plenary Session of The CPC’s 19th Central Committee
By: Hussein Askary, The Belt and Road Institute in Sweden (BRIX)
December 6, 2021
To be able to forecast where China is heading in the near and farther future, including the fate of the Belt and Road Initiative, we need a deeper and unbiased review of the process of decision making and the thought process behind it. Even if you are a rival of China, you need to know how, why, and where it is moving. We are missing a huge treasure of information and knowledge due to the negative coverage presented in short clips in Western mass-media and in stereotypical reports by think tanks concerning the People’s Republic of China (PRC) and its most important political arm the Communist Party of China (CPC). The negative coverage leads, among other things, to preventing the public, researchers, and policy makers from having a good look inside the mind of the leadership of China, especially President Xi Jinping. The original information and material are amply available everywhere, but very few people outside China reach out to read and discuss it to know what is being discussed and decided inside the corridors of power in China.
In our previous review published on the website of our Belt and Road Institute in Sweden on “China’s Epic Journey from Poverty to Prosperity”, the amazing economic, cultural and ecological rise of China was discussed. China managed in the past few decades to lift 800 million Chinese citizens out of extreme poverty and reached the goal of what its leadership designated as “moderate prosperity in all respects” and eliminating extreme poverty in the centennial anniversary of the founding of the CPC in 2021.
What is of interest for us as a Belt and Road Institute, is the economic policy of China, so we can give a useful assessment to the Swedish and Western public, policy makers and businesses of where China is going and how.
The Resolution adopted in the 6th Plenary Session of The CPC’s 19th Central Committee in Beijing held on November 8th-12th and is titled “Resolution on the Major Achievements and Historical Experience of The Party over the Past Century” states the obvious fact about China’s economic rise in the past four decades. “China achieved the historic transformation from a country with relatively backward productive forces to the world’s second largest economy, and made the historic strides of raising the living standards of its people from bare subsistence to moderate prosperity in general and then toward moderate prosperity in all respects,” it states.
What was achieved has already been described in our previous review on “China’s Epic Journey from Poverty to Prosperity”. What we are interested in here is the “how”.
Building a bridge from the past to the future
We also need to review its recent past which contributed to shaping the present policies and the political, economic, social, and cultural bridge being built by the CPC to connect the past to the future. More important than the past is to find out what is the Chinese leadership’s image of the future they want to create, because that is what is going to determine its present policies.
This was the subject of one of the most important meetings of the CPC in recent years, the 6th Plenary Session of The CPC’s 19th Central Committee in Beijing held on November 8th-12th.
For an outsider like me, I think about this question by asking myself this: The job of the leadership of China in recent decades has been to steer a ship with now 1.4 billion people with 56 ethnic groups in a sea of changing dynamics economically, socially, technologically, and security-wise. The ship must move forward in sometimes stormy seas and maneuver while keeping the course and remaining as stable as possible to reach its future destination. How is that done?
Having achieved a society with a moderate prosperity by 2021, by 2035 China intends to achieve “basic socialist modernization” when the levels of technological advancement, innovation, living standards are the highest in the world, while the national governance system is modernized. By 2049 China is planning to achieve the goal of building “a modern socialist country that is prosperous, strong, democratic, culturally advanced, harmonious and beautiful”.
All these “stepping-stones” or landmarks are reached, not by some authoritarian slogan, but by a process of deep deliberations from the top to the bottom of all layers of the CPC and society in general from the smallest village to the largest city. While the goals are set by the top leadership, consent by all layers of The Party and discussions of the direction of the policy and its implementation are part of what the Chinese call a “whole-process democracy”. It is interesting to know that three of the top leaders of China today, President Xi Jinping, Premier Li Keqiang, and Vice-President Wang Qishan all started their carrier in The Party, although they had a high level of education, in the rural areas in the 1980s, lower than municipal departments, and climbed through hard and diligent work to the top of the CPC and government.
The 6th Plenary session of the 19th Central Committee is one of the most important events in this process of deliberation. Here we will review here the historic “Resolution on the Major Achievements and Historical Experience of The Party over the Past Century” it adopted.
There are many issues of importance that were dealt with in the 6th Plenary Session of the CPC 19th Central Committee, but we selected the few that are of interest to our readership and those interested in China’s future economic strategy and in relationship to the Belt and Road Initiative.
What we can take away from reading this document are the following key point:
- The CPC with President Xi Jinping at its core, will continue to be the designer and enforcer of policies. It will increase its power in and over the People’s Republic of China and will further centralize power at the top leadership of the CPC. The citizens of the PRC are accepting this fact not by coercion or security measures by the government, but by proving to the people that the CPC and the government it is leading is by proof of what it has achieved in the past 100 years is the best assurance to fulfill the Chinese Dream.
- No one should harbor any illusions that there are dramatic factional fights within the leadership of The Party or that President Xi could be ousted in a “palace coup”. The world must learn to live with these established facts and accept the Chinese way of doing things as long as it does not pose a threat to other nations.
- The most dangerous internal enemy and challenge to the power of the CPC is corruption within its ranks, not some democracy or human rights movement or NGOs. This corruption is identified in two categories: One, intellectual corruption whereby some sections of The Party lose sight of the mission and duties of The Party vis-à-vis the Chinese people. Party members can become intellectually complacent and lazy and, being unmotivated, fall into comfort zones. They will also try to climb in rank in The Party not through hard work and fulfilling their duties but by cronyism, cheating and manipulations. Second, financial corruption within The Party and government institutions whereby Party members try to enrich themselves illegally using their power position to receive bribes, commissions, and privileges. In both categories, the CPC seems to have been vigilant and achieved massive clean out operations (such as Sky Net) in its ranks, especially since Xi Jinping assumed the leadership position.
- The Chinese leadership has set clear economic goals in the next decades to reach the Second Centennial Goal in the 100th anniversary of the founding of the PRC in 2049. Nothing can change that except an external cataclysmic event such as a world war or a massive asteroid impact that could wipe out civilization from the surface of Earth.
- China will continue to be or become the world leader in many hi-tech sectors: information and telecommunication technology, AI, engineering and construction of infrastructure, nuclear power (including fusion research), space exploration, biotech and several other fields before 2035.
- Reform and opening up will continue with additional opening up of the Chinese consumer market and investment in Chinese productive enterprises, especially high-tech fields, green technologies and biotech. This will open great opportunities for competent and innovative European and American companies. China will open its consumer market more for developing nations to export agricultural products and raw material to China.
- President Xi and the CPC made at least two clear-cut breakthroughs in economic thought.
One: He argued that economic growth and progress cannot be measured merely in GDP growth, but rather through the raising of the productive powers of labor through scientific and technological development. China is moving from “growth at any price” to “quality growth”. It will continue to be the factory of the world, but for high-value products. However, it will continue to compete with others even in lower value products since it has the most efficient industrial capacity and supply chain within the country itself. Through the Belt and Road corridors, it can bring its products quickly, securely and cheaply to any corner of the planet.
Two: The other breakthrough is related to the known fact that innovation is the key to economic growth. However, innovation cannot be a result of mere “hard work” and through collective efforts but that innovation (or rather “creativity” to use better term) is a function of the development of the culture and individual especially the aesthetical aspect. Therefore, the revival of Chinese classical culture and even on western classical culture rather than the banal popular culture is a move in the right direction. It is not a mere national romantic view of ancestral traditions and identity, but a true method of scientific and aesthetic fostering of the creative powers of the individual and society. Therefore, the restrictions on Chinese children’s computer use habits, for example, should be viewed in this light. This also opens the way for Western classical culture professionals to cooperate with the massive Chinese “cultural market”. This will also be a very important aspect of people-to-people dialog of civilizations.
- The Public sector and state-owned enterprises will continue to be the main pillar of the growth and development of the Chinese economy. However, many doors are being opened and incentives offered for the private sector to fuse new blood, especially in the innovation side of the economy.
- The Belt and Road Initiative will remain the main pillar of China’s foreign policy and economic cooperation. The country’s diplomatic mission is tightly intertwined with economic cooperation and assuring the expansion and secure building the of the BRI. Its basic foreign policy philosophy is “peace through economic development”.
- Concerning Foreign Policy, China will reject any redefinition of international law which is anchored in the United Nations Charter. It will reject such notions as the “rules-based order” and “responsibility to protect” which is an invention of certain power groups in the West to allow themselves to interfere in the internal affairs of other nations with disastrous consequences. China will respect nations who will respect its territorial integrity, sovereignty and independence. This applies to the question of Hong Kong and Taiwan, where there will be no compromises with principle of “One Country, Two Systems”. China will likewise not interfere in other nations’ internal affairs and will not attach political demands to its economic dealings with other nations.
- In judging where and how China is moving into the future, two fatal mistakes should be avoided by Western analysts:
One: To assume that China is an “authoritarian” and “dictatorial” regime led by a Communist party which many believe is a product of the twentieth century whose place is in museums and archeology departments, thinking that the CPC is detached spiritually and intellectually from the 5000-year Chinese civilization especially its Confucian component.
Two: Projecting Western ideology and political philosophy over China, the CPC and its political system and philosophy of governance. China is a unique country in every respect, history, culture politics, social system and norms, and economic development.
Ultimately, it is the Chinese people who will be the judge of the performance of the CPC and the government policies. That’s the meaning of a people-centered policy. As far as we are concerned, it is important to learn to live with China as it is, not as we wish it to be.
It is our recommendation that China should be studies from within these Chinese characteristics and not through the lenses of our Western history. It is equally important to study the mind and thinking of its leadership, especially President Xi, not merely his speeches and writings, but also what books he has read, what kind of music he listens to, who are his favorite philosophers, what scientific matters he has been studying, just to give a few examples