China’s 20th Party Congress
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Less than two weeks remain until the Communist Party’s Congress in Beijing. Photo: AP

China’s Communist Party congress to zero in on national direction for next 5 years – and beyond

  • Attention to shift to goal of returning country to the forefront of global powers by 2049
  • Editorial echoes Marxist theme of ‘struggle’ highlighted by the party in recent weeks
China’s leadership will discuss and calibrate the country’s strategy for the next five years and beyond at the Communist Party’s upcoming national congress as it grapples with a “complex and arduous environment at home and abroad”, according to People’s Daily.
In its National Day editorial, the party mouthpiece said the twice-a-decade congress would be critical for China to deliver the second of President Xi Jinping’s “Two Centenaries” goals – to return the nation to the forefront of global powers by 2049, when it celebrates its centenary.

“At the [20th] congress, we will make an overall assessment and scientifically plan the mission objectives and policy directions for the next five years and beyond,” the editorial said without elaboration.

The congress, which gets under way in two weeks, is convened mainly to usher in a power transition and changes in leadership.

While the focus will be personnel issues and not detailed policy deliberations, the top agenda usually includes setting long-term strategic goals.

It was at the 18th congress in 2012 that Xi first put forward the concept of the Two Centenaries and made it the party’s broad ambition.

The Two Centenaries is a set of goals to measure progress in China’s modernisation, calling on China to become “a moderately prosperous society in all respects” by 2021.

By 2049, when the People’s Republic celebrates its 100th anniversary, China should by then be an “a strong, democratic, civilised, harmonious and modern socialist country”.

Once these two missions are completed, the “ Chinese dream” of rejuvenation will be considered achieved.

While the language of the concept is outwardly vague and deliberately lacks detail, it is understood that within the party, more concrete measures – such as economic growth data, environmental statistics and army modernisation benchmarks – are used to gauge progress.

Last year, when the Communist Party celebrated the centenary of its founding, Xi declared that the first part of the Two Centenaries had been attained.

Having achieved that, Xi is expected to focus on the 2049 plan once he begins an anticipated unprecedented third term as the party’s chief at the end of the congress.

The People’s Daily editorial said that at the congress, which starts on October 16, the party leaders would access and review “the two-phase strategy” to realise the goal, an approach that was first announced in November 2020.

In the first phase, China will aim to make significant progress by 2035 in nine areas, including critical core technology, military modernisation, advanced economic systems and carbon neutrality.

This would put the country in a position to make the final push for Xi’s Chinese dream to build China into a “strong, democratic, civilised, harmonious and modern socialist country” by 2049.

The People’s Daily editorial noted that China had gone through a “very unusual and extraordinary” decade since the Two Centenaries concept was raised.

“Since the 18th party congress, we have entered a new era,” it said.

“It has been an extraordinary decade, and we have encountered many risks and challenges, sometimes even faced existential threats. The burdens on our shoulders are rarely seen in the world and in history.

“We must have the courage to carry out a great struggle with many new historical characteristics, be prepared to make more arduous efforts, continue to be modest and prudent, guard against arrogance and impatience, continue to work hard, forge ahead, do our best with our own affairs, and persevere to achieve our established goals.”

The term “struggle”, a Marxist concept referring to defiance of social injustice, has appeared frequently in official statements in the lead-up to the congress, including in a speech by vice foreign minister Ma Zhaoxu last week.

“Our diplomatic struggle is aimed at words and deeds harmful to Chinese national interests and national dignity, [it] safeguards our own legitimate rights and interests, opposes hegemony and bullying, and upholds international fairness and justice,” Ma said.

Xi also used the term in an article published on Saturday in the party journal Qiushi.

In it, he called on Communist Party members to focus on their “historical mission” and prepare for “great struggles” ahead.

Xi said the country “has never been closer” to achieving its great national rejuvenation, but the last mile would be full of perils and challenges.