President Xi Jinping crowned this Friday a long bureaucratic and rearrangement process at the level of tectonic plates of Chinese power, achieving total political dominance in the country: the National People’s Assembly appointed him for a third five-year term -2023-2028- unprecedented among his predecessors since the death of Deng Xiaoping, Mao’s successor.
The 2,952 deputies of the Assembly unanimously approved the continuation of Xi as head of state, without even an abstention. In the plenary session, held in the Great Hall of the People in front of Tiananmen Square, the appointments of Han Zheng as vice president and Zhao Leji as president of the Standing Committee of the National People’s Assembly, both very close to Xi, were also endorsed. last October he had been ratified as general secretary of the Communist Party at the XX Congress of that formation.
Xi also controls the Central Military Commission (CMC) – head of the Armed Forces with two million soldiers – guaranteeing himself unquestionable control over the three arms of power: State, Party and Army.
A path carved with Chinese patience
The previous step to all this had been to eliminate from the Constitution the limitation to two consecutive terms. The CCP opted for Xi as a figure that would install a strong leadership – he met the requirement of being the son of a revolutionary – and thus the CCP General Secretary arrived in 2012. And the following year, to the presidency of the country.
Once at the pinnacle of power, Xi -69 years old- was running from their posts to any potential competitor or official who was not closely trusted and taking their places with his own people, until he became the most powerful Chinese leader since Mao Zedong. .
Deng Xiapong had introduced constitutional reforms in 1982 to seek a collegiate power structure limited to two terms, to avoid the personalistic excesses of the Mao era. This has been taken down and Xi seems to be entering a stage of some cult of personality.
But Xi Jinping is far from an ossified bureaucrat. He is very active, both internally and abroad, along the lines of the last three Chinese presidents, as the sinologist Federico Muller points out: “Yang Zheming, Hu Xintao and Xi Jinping have been or are engineers, construction technocrats in the line of history of the Confucian emperors, one of whose missions was to manage natural disasters and rebuild. China is still suffering from the effects of the pandemic.
A central slogan of Xi Jingping is the “rejuvenation of China”, a policy centered on a state hyper-capitalism with Chinese characteristics – very neo-Keynesian with a powerful but export-oriented domestic market.– that seeks to rank the country very high among the world powers, a position it occupied until the beginning of the 19th century when foreign invasions arrived and the dismemberment of the country sank its economy and national dignity.
Chinese vs. USA
The growing rivalry with the US, the potential conflict with Taiwan and reactivating the economy battered by the real estate bubble and the three years of isolation by the Covid, will be the challenges for Xi in the next five years.
The central axis of its internal policy thought in terms of “efficiency” will be to resume growth, which last year it was 3 percent -very low by Chinese standards- when the target was 5.5, a figure they hope to reach this year.
Xi surrounded himself at the 20th Congress with a new trusted team, who will be held accountable to achieve goals such as “common prosperity”, “technological self-reliance” and “rejuvenation”. Xi himself has warned that China will navigate a “stormy sea” in the coming years, portending calls for utmost obedience and unity.
But his biggest foreign challenge – after unprecedented protests that forced a change in the Covid-zero policy – will be dealing with the growing tension between Washington and Beijing: “China wants to convince the world that its development model works and can surpass the US.” “But to reach that goal, Xi must revive the economy and meet the goals of technological self-sufficiency in a hostile and unfavorable external environment,” said Professor Xie Maosong of Tsinghua University.
A high-tech party
If the Chinese leadership is clear about one thing, it is that if its goal is to surpass the US, it must do so on its own ground: in that of technology. That is why the axis of the technocrats in power is to push from the State to the big technological corporations that are already disputing the scepter to those of Silicon Valley. The think tank Australian Institute for Strategic Policy released its new report “Tracking Critical Technology” last week, concluding that today China leads the world in research in 37 out of 44 critical technologies: “Our research reveals that China has built the foundation to position itself as the world’s leading science and technology superpower, establishing at times impressive leadership in high-impact research in most of the dominant emerging technologies.” If this process is consolidated, the propaganda slogan of “national rejuvenation” would become a factual fact of reality and a proof of Chinese efficiency.