The 20th Party Congress kicks off in Beijing. President Xi Jinping emphasises “Chinese-style modernisation” in his speech but continues to support economic development mode. A rare protest in the Haidian district called for Xi’s ouster. Chinese State media reignite the memory of Galwan clash in an emotional video of People’s Liberation Army or PLA commander Qi Fabao. Chinascope brings you the latest developments from a glitzy week in Chinese politics.
China over the week
In a two-hour-long work report – essentially a speech – Xi Jinping gave a rare insight into his thinking about China’s future direction. Xi’s speech kicked off the 20th Party Congress on Sunday.
“From now on, the central task of the Communist Party of China [CCP] is to unite and lead the people of all ethnic groups in building a strong socialist modernisation country in an all-round way, achieve the second centenary goal, and comprehensively promote the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation with Chinese style modernisation,” said Xi Jinping in the speech on Sunday.
Compared to the work report presented at the 19th Party Congress in 2017, the speech this year was half in length. Although Xi’s speech is a summary of the work report for the 19th Party Congress, the complete work report is 72 pages long. Xi read a summarised version of the report for 2 hours.
Xi Jinping mentioned national security (安全) 50 times in his speech this year, though the term appeared fewer times compared to his 2017 speech. Nevertheless, given that the length of this one was half of what he verbalised at the previous Party Congress, the term was prominently placed in the party discourse.
“The five years since the 19th National Congress have been extremely unusual and extraordinary. The Central Committee of the Communist Party of China has made overall plans for the great rejuvenation strategy of the Chinese nation and the unprecedented changes in the world in a century, made major strategic arrangements for the development of the Party and the country, united and led the whole Party, the whole army and the people of all ethnic groups to effectively respond to the severe and complex international situation and the enormous risks and challenges that followed, and continued to advance socialism with Chinese characteristics in the new era with a spirit of striving and making progress,” said Xi.
On the issue of Taiwan, Xi said, “We put forward an overall strategy for resolving the Taiwan issue in the new era, promote cross-strait exchanges and cooperation, resolutely oppose ‘Taiwan independence’ separatist acts, resolutely oppose interference by external forces, and firmly grasp the dominance and initiative of cross-strait relations.”
Meanwhile, Taiwan has responded by saying it will not back down on sovereignty.
On 15 October, delegates of the 20th Party Congress met in Beijing for the pre-Congress kick-off, where CCP leader and political theorist Wang Hunning was elected as Congress secretary.
The seventh plenum meeting of the 19th Party Congress ended the previous cycle of Chinese politics before the current Party Congress started on Sunday. To conclude the success of the 19th Party Congress, the press release of the seventh plenary meeting counted the response to Covid-19, the Hong Kong protest movement, commitment to the one-China principle in the context of Taiwan, and securing China’s territorial integrity as some of the achievements.
During the same meeting, considered the last gathering before the 20th Party Congress, Xi’s role was recognised as the “core of the party.”
It may sound like anodyne wording without much meaning. But the CCP’s elevation of Xi to the “core of the party” reaffirms his role of driving China’s destiny where he feels fit. Twentieth Party Congress spokesperson Sun Yeli told reporters about revisions to the governing constitution, which will enshrine Xi’s ideology into the Chinese constitution. So far, we have few details about what that would really mean.
Sun hinted during the same press conference that China’s Covid policy would remain intact.
As expected, the Party Congress became the top trending story on Chinese social media.
The ‘official press release of the 20th Party Congress’ became the number one trend on Chinese microblogging site Weibo. The trend was viewed over 56 million times and is growing. The hashtag ‘20th Party Congress’ was viewed over 1.5 billion times on the platform.
Experts are trying to make sense of Xi’s speech.
“Xi changed the structure of the report fairly significantly compared to previous years. There are new sections on science and education, on national security and on the legal system areas that have previously been addressed in other parts of report. Having these new sections means they’re going to be even higher priorities,” Neil Thomas, a China analyst at Eurasia Group, told Bloomberg.
Other experts believe Xi is doubling down on challenging the US’ preeminent role in the current international order.
“From his speech, it’s clear he’s the leader of the world’s number two country; he wants to change the world order. So China’s clash with the US will be intensified. I don’t see any possibility of tensions being lowered,” Alfred Wu, associate professor at the National University of Singapore’s Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, told Bloomberg.
Three days before the Party Congress, an unprecedented protest was witnessed on the Sitong bridge in the Haidian district of Beijing, which became a sensation.
A poster hung from a bridge said, “Livelihood, not nucleic test. Freedom, not lockdowns. Dignity, Not lies. Reform, not cultural revolution. Elections, not supreme leader. Citizens, not slaves.” The protest has been dubbed ‘Sitong protest’ after the name of the bridge where the banner first appeared. The hashtag ‘Sitongqiao’ trended on Twitter.
The mention of the protest was heavily censored on Chinese social media platforms, including Weibo and WeChat.
The photos and videos from this incident show a protester responsible for hanging the poster being taken away by local police forces.
The banners are said to have been hung by Peng Zaizhou, most likely a reference to widespread anger and not a real name. Peng Zaizhou is also called Peng Lifa.
Some people have associated a Twitter account with Peng Lifa, though there is no confirmation that the account belongs to him. The protester has been hailed as a “hero” outside of China as support poured on social media. Chinese international students posted banners on university campuses in the UK, US and Australia to show solidarity with the protesters.
Ahead of the Party Congress, the Chinese State media has gone into hyper mode to remind people about the events of the past five years.
Chinese State media brought the Galwan stand-off back into attention with an emotional recounting of the June clash led by PLA commander Qi Fabao.
The video montage shows the recording of the clash between Indian Army soldiers and PLA— footage that the Chinese State media has previously broadcasted.
“We must not keep the territory of the motherland small and lose it! High altitude, low temperature, hypoxia, strong radiation… The frontline environment is harsh. Wearing a hood. Wear cotton clothes and cotton pants. Covered with two quilts and frozen to sleep all night. That’s how we guard the border,” said Qi while shedding tears in the video.
In the same video, the Indian Army was mentioned as a foreign military by the Chinese State media.
“The foreign military violated the consensus and set up tents across the line. Qi Fabao led the team to negotiate but was attacked by the other party. In the face of foreign troops, several times their own. Fearless and brave. In front of you is the siege, behind is the motherland. Qi Fabao and his comrades defend with their lives,” said a voice-over in the video by state-run China Central Television, or CCTV.
PLA commander Qi Fabao is one of the delegates to the 20th Party Congress. In addition, Chinascope has told you about the selection of nine delegates from the Red Army Division, a key army division across Ladakh, to the 20th Party Congress.
Meanwhile, the Taiwanese military is raising the bar of what could be considered a serious territorial violation by the PLA.
Taiwan’s Ministry of Defence has said that intrusions by PLA’s drones will be considered a “first strike” as Taipei faces regular intrusions by military drones from the mainland. Under the announcement, the Taiwanese troops on the frontline—facing the mainland—will be able to decide their response to an intrusion by PLA’s drones.
“Soldiers would first report the intruding aircraft, then try to warn them away before repelling them with a drone jamming gun or downing them with light weapons,” reported Focus Taiwan, citing comments by Major General Lin Wen-huang, Deputy Chief of General Staff Operations and Planning Office. Taiwanese military recently showcased the anti-drone guns that will now be used against intruding PLA drones.
Also read: China watchers are on the rise in India—from civil servants to scholars to general public
China in world news
The US’s targeted campaign to choke China’s access to semiconductor technology has had some successes. Still, President Joe Biden’s administration has grown weary about continued business interactions between China and its companies.
Now, we have learned that the Biden administration has held conversations with US business executives in the spring and shared a plan to counter China’s aggressive advancement in military technology.
The US has sought support from allies such as Denmark, Japan, South Korea, Israel and the UK to choke China’s access to critical semiconductor technology.
But after failing to get a consensus from the allies on collective action, the Biden administration decided to put up a solid fence to choke China’s access to semiconductor technology in a wide-spectrum and targeted policy action.
The new restrictions imposed on Chinese chip firms will impact another group of people – American executives working in Chinese companies.
“Restricts the ability of US persons to support the development, or production, of ICs [Integrated Circuits] at certain PRC [People’s Republic of China]-located semiconductor fabrication ‘facilities’ without a license,” said the US commerce department in its recent action against Chinese semiconductor companies.
The Chinese chip firms have already started taking US citizens off their research and development projects to limit the impact of the commerce department’s action. Many of these C-level executives are naturalised US citizens who were born in China but studied in the US and went to work in the Chinese chip industry.
After the new government in Berlin sent out signals that it would take a different approach from the previous government, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz might be making a ‘u-turn’ on that promise.
Chancellor Olaf Scholz has said that Germany “must continue to do business with China.” The remarks come as Scholz gets ready to visit Beijing on November 3-4 this year.
Scholz is under pressure from Germany’s business community to open the door to Beijing. German magnates pressurised Berlin to scrap a proposed investment screening plan under development. German companies such as chemical giant BASF, Deutsche Bank and industrial group Siemens were among the companies that attended a meeting with economy minister Robert Habeck.
We don’t know if Germany has scrapped the investment screening plan, but Scholz’s visit to China means that Berlin doesn’t want to close that door yet.
Also read: LAC disengagement a bargain Xi had to bite at. But Chinese media isn’t telling people that
What you must read this week
The Spirit at the Core – David Bandurski
Party of One: The CCP Congress and Xi Jinping’s Quest to Control China – Jude Blanchette
The World According to Xi Jinping: What China’s Ideologue in Chief Really Believes – Kevin Rudd
China’s Tech Firms Are Slashing Staff. Creators Are First in Line – Wu Peiyue and Wu Haiyun
China’s 20th Party Congress Leadership Reshuffle: Stasis or Sweep? – Christopher K. Johnson
With New Crackdown, Biden Wages Global Campaign on Chinese Technology – Ana Swanson and Edward Wong
The author is a columnist and a freelance journalist, currently pursuing an MSc in international politics with a focus on China from School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), University of London. He was previously a China media journalist at the BBC World Service. He tweets @aadilbrar. Views are personal.
(Edited by Zoya Bhatti)