A man in Shanghai watches a screen showing the live broadcast of Chinese President Xi Jinping attending the opening ceremony of the 20th National Congress of the Communist Party of China. Photo: Reuters
by SCMP Editorial
by SCMP Editorial

Despite challenges, Xi makes clear that his ambitions for China can and will be met

  • President not only praises the achievements of the past 10 years at Communist Party’s national congress but more importantly outlines his blueprint for turning the country into a leading global power by mid-century

The leader’s speech to the Chinese Communist Party’s five-yearly national congress is an overarching view of the achievements of the past and a vision of the future. Yesterday the vision consisted of goals that must be met if China is to fulfil its destiny of national rejuvenation. What set the address to the opening session of the 20th party congress by President Xi Jinping apart is that he is on the cusp of beginning a third term in office. He was therefore giving an account of 10 years at the helm of party and country and setting out the next stage of China’s ascent to the summit of world power.

The past five years was defined by the challenges of political unrest and anti-government demonstrations in Hong Kong, the Covid-19 pandemic, heightened tension with the United States and over Taiwan. Later in the speech, when Xi affirmed a preference for peaceful cross-strait reunification over the use of force, the Taiwan issue evoked the greatest display of unity and resolve from delegates in the form of the longest and loudest applause.

Beijing will do its utmost for peaceful reunification with Taiwan, Xi says

While the past decade may have been challenging for the Communist Party domestically and politically it will be remembered, nonetheless, for achievements such as the declaration that the central government had succeeded in its goal of eradicating extreme poverty, development and consolidation of the Belt and Road Initiative for infrastructure partnership, and the centenary of the Communist Party. But Xi made it clear that the next five years under his leadership is mission critical to the vision of China becoming the leading power in the world by mid-century in two stages: first by completing modernisation by 2035 and then by becoming a pacesetter and goal-setter of global development by 2050.

The most difficult part lies just ahead. That is how to begin – or how to generate enough momentum from the start – to propel a realistic tilt at such an ambitious and enshrined objective, and then ensure that the policy direction is correct.

Sustainable quality growth

In this regard, quantitative headline growth alone cannot be the only measure of China’s development. It needs sustainable quality growth, to be measured ultimately by self-reliance in many aspects of security. This goes beyond the narrow concept of military security to reasonable expectations of safety from disease, deprivation and disaster. In terms of Xi’s goal of common prosperity in which growth benefits everyone, Xi is essentially talking about growing the middle class. He also talked about helping the poor, with the emphasis on job creation. When he talked about quality growth that also includes carbon neutrality and air quality, with pollution in a sense being comparable with poverty.

Eradication of poverty was once considered mission impossible until proved otherwise. Pollution may not be comparable, but it also has the potential to become a chronic problem for China.

As it happened: China’s 20th Communist Party congress opens in Beijing

Xi’s work report set out a number of goals but there need to be concrete measures and implementation in keeping with the party’s leading status for the nation. Indeed when it comes to innovation, technology and education, he is not setting out detailed policies but setting clear goals for the party that are mission critical to national aspirations, particularly much greater self-reliance in the face of fraught relations with the United States and the West. And he stressed the importance of grooming and attracting all necessary talent. He also talked about the party’s attitude to the business sector, making it clear that fears of China retreating to self-isolation did not reflect policy direction. The operating environment for private business and investors is to be more rule-based and regulated. This should not be equated with a crackdown, but rather a fairer and more transparent playing field for the private sector and investors.

Backing for Hong Kong

Whereas, in the review of the past five years, Hong Kong’s political unrest was mentioned alongside Taiwan and Covid, when it came to forward-looking goal-setting the city appeared in more positive light, with Xi promising that “one country, two systems” would remain as a long-term policy. Under the principle of “patriots administering Hong Kong”, Xi also highlighted that the financial hub had the country’s support in developing its local economy, improving people’s livelihoods, as well as resolving deep-seated conflicts and problems concerning economic and social development. “We will support Hong Kong and Macau in better integrating themselves into China’s overall development,” he said.

Xi says China must brace for ‘dangerous storms’, as party congress kicks off

On Taiwan the message was nuanced, promising to “strive for peaceful reunification [but] we will never promise to renounce the use of force, and we reserve the option of taking all measures necessary”. This is a clear and timely message to both the Taiwan public and the world that force remains Beijing’s very last resort in resolving the Taiwan issue. The wave of applause from party delegates reflected wide consensus. When it comes to diplomacy, Xi states clearly China’s attitude of strongly opposing double standards.

Xi has laid down ambitious goals. They will not be easily achieved. The party and the nation must be prepared to withstand many challenges ahead.