Xi Jinping’s Party Congress Speech Big on Continuity, But Busts a Few Myths Too

China’s 20th Communist Party Congress began on Sunday, with Xi Jinping poised to clinch his third five-year stint in charge. Xi opened the week-long, twice-a-decade session with a speech touting China’s fight against Covid-19, the party’s safeguarding of national security, maintaining social stability, protecting people’s lives and taking control of the situation in Hong Kong, which was rocked by anti-government protests in 2019. He also called for accelerating the building of a world-class military.

At 104 minutes, shorter than the 2017 one, the speech seemed to be a trimmed version of a bigger document as a number of officials were seen underlining parts of their copies while Xi Jinping was speaking.

In the work report from which his speech was drawn, Xi used the terms “security” or “safety” 89 times, up from 55 times in 2017, according to a Reuters count, while his use of the word “reform” declined to 48 from 68 mentions five years ago.

The tone and vocabulary of Xi’s speech have already reflected in ideological campaigns in the last couple of years. The speech, however, did not divert from the ideological and policy positions that the party under him has taken up in the last couple of years.

Xi has reoriented China both domestically and internationally. The military has staked claims to disputed territory while diplomats have become more assertive, saying China won’t be bullied by the US and others. Xi has brought back stronger state control over the economy and society, expanding censorship and arrest to stifle dissent. All of that is here to stay was the message in Xi’s speech.

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The Chinese leader, however, toned down the rhetoric on “common prosperity”. In addition, his speech also had less emphasis on state market dynamics, a key issue that needs to be seen in market regulation and party’s control over private sector in the final document at the end of the Congress.

The speech once again busts few myths that outside analysts have built over a period of time.

With the exception of Covid-19, the party under Xi has shown continuity in broader terms, although within its own parameters. The comparisons with Mao and the idea that more extreme control something like cultural revolution may come when Xi is anointed for third term are misplaced when we look at the task of rebuilding the party Xi inherited in 2012.

India’s assessment of Chinese politics in Xi’s third term should not fall into the trap Western narratives try to build of a besieged China locking itself from outside world. We will see continuation of major policies in Xi’s third term.

To prolonged applause, Xi said it was up to the Chinese people to resolve the Taiwan issue and China would never renounce the right to use force but will strive for a peaceful resolution.

The party’s military wing, the People’s Liberation Army, needs to “safeguard China’s dignity and core interests,” Xi said, referring to a list of territorial claims and other issues over which Beijing says it is ready to go to war.

“We will work faster to modernize military theory, personnel and weapons,” Xi said. “We will enhance the military’s strategic capabilities.”

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With agency inputs

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