Xi launches new era with vision in which Hong Kong has part to play
As the president looks to a ‘great modern socialist nation’ with pioneering global influence, obstacles remain on the home front and neighbours need assurances on China’s growing military might
In his keynote report to the national congress of the Chinese Communist Party, Xi Jinping launched a new era of national development, while reaffirming the leadership of the party in every aspect of life as inseparable from the dream of national rejuvenation. The president revealed that China has adopted “socialism with Chinese characteristics for a new era” as the guiding principle of national development to a new plateau by the middle of the 21st century.
He outlined a vision with two targets. By 2035, China would become a top-ranked innovative nation projecting enhanced global soft power, with a large middle-income population and a narrower wealth gap. From 2035 to 2050, China would become a “great modern socialist nation” – strong, prosperous and democratic – with pioneering global influence.
In a more detailed vision for the country’s development over the next five years and even longer, Xi admitted obstacles, such as unfairness and inequity as people strive to improve their lives and their aspirations broaden: “The principal contradiction facing Chinese society [is] between unbalanced and inadequate development and the people’s ever-growing needs for a better life … Not only have their material and cultural needs grown, their demands for democracy, rule of law, fairness and justice, security, and a better environment are increasing.”
To lead by example
Xi’s vision of China is a continuation of Mao Zedong’s era of the development of an independent nation state free of foreign occupation, and Deng Xiaoping’s era of setting aside political controversy to focus on opening up, building up the Chinese economy and lifting the standard of living. But enriching people is not enough to return China to the front line of great powers.
Xi’s two-stage vision is the ultimate fulfilment of the visions of his two eminent predecessors. They go beyond transforming China into a global powerhouse of innovation to quality-of-life issues, such as ensuring that by 2035 no Chinese need live in poverty, rolling back pollution of air and water, and strengthening the rule of law and the governance of the nation. By 2050 the vision is of a China that no longer plays catch-up but is expected to lead by example.
These are lofty goals. Xi needs to use the vision astutely to mobilise and motivate the party. On one hand he stressed tighter control by the party over all aspects of life. On the other he conceded that if the party were to play its part in fulfilling his vision, it had to embrace reforms to make it more efficient and accountable. Corruption remains paramount among its image issues. Xi rightly sees rooting it out as a priority if the party is to maintain its political legitimacy. That said, he stressed that China must be led by the party, and ruled out going down the road to Western-style democracy. Indeed, he said China’s way of development had provided a new model for developing countries.
Integral to Xi’s vision for the nation is China’s relations with the region and wider world. He spelt out his new thinking on diplomacy, casting aside traditional approaches of self-benefit in favour of shared interests and goals. Countries were encouraged to work together to create a community with a common destiny that would drive balanced development and ensure peace and stability. The strategy makes good sense; as the president said: “No country alone can handle all the challenges that mankind faces and no country can retreat into self-isolation.”
Eager for friendly ties
It was a pointed reference to the protectionism and anti-globalisation moves under way in Europe and the US. There are other global challenges and uncertainties, among them climate change, terrorism, cybercrime, a widening wealth gap and epidemics. As Xi said, these are matters that can be effectively dealt with only through governments cooperating.
Xi’s approach is not a copy of the model adopted by the West towards less-developed countries; China seeks mutual benefits and remains firm to the principle of non-interference in the domestic affairs of others. Understandably, Beijing is eager for friendly ties with other countries and it has shown that, even in the face of disputes, such as those with some Southeast Asian nations over territory in the South China Sea and a border row with India, the priority will always be a peaceful resolution. But China also needs to give neighbours and others assurances, particularly as its military grows in strength and reach and its influence expands.
With no fewer than three references to Hong Kong and Macau in his speech, the importance attached to the two special administrative regions is also seen as higher than in the past. While Xi pledged to uphold the policy of “one country, two systems”, he said it was imperative to ensure the central government’s “overall jurisdiction” over Hong Kong and Macau and their high degree of autonomy to ensure that the policy would not be distorted.
The implication is clear. While the city will continue to enjoy a high degree of autonomy, Beijing is expected to be more assertive in showing its authority when needed.