In October 2022 the Chinese Communist Party held the first Plenum of its 20th Central Committee. The Economist commented that as a result “Xi Jinping is the most powerful person in the world.” Stratfor summarised the meeting this way: “Chinese leader Xi Jinping secured a new term and a thoroughly loyal cabinet, which will enable him to carry out his nationalist policy agenda over the next five-to-ten years. Xi will remain the leader of the CCP for the next five years after gaining another term as General Secretary. Xi still has no designated successor. At 69 years old, Xi is also advanced in age. But he is increasingly the exception to Party leadership rules, as shown by his ability to secure an unprecedented third term at the CCP's helm. Xi appears likely to take a fourth term in 2027.”
What will this mean for the next five to ten years? Four years ago Elizabeth Economy summarised Xi’s policy direction in three ways, all of which help us to understand the direction in which China will be going.
- “Xi has moved away from Deng’s consensus-based decision-making and has consolidated institutional power in his own hands.” Following the disaster of the Cultural Revolution under the sole leadership of Chairman Mao, it was mandated that no one man would ever again hold total power in China. That was very much Deng Xiaoping’s desire. Xi has totally reversed that policy. “The amendments to the Party constitution include pledges to uphold the ‘Two Establishments’ and ‘Two Safeguards’, Party jargon that declares Xi as the core leader of the Chinese Communist Party and deems 'Xi Jinping Thought' as the foundation of governing China in this new era." Xi is in effect chairman of everything. The man most likely to succeed Li Keqiang as Premier, Li Qiang, was the Shanghai Party Secretary and has no experience with central government duties. His rise to power may be based on his loyalty to Xi in his quite ruthless implementation of Xi’s zero-Covid policy in Shanghai earlier this year. “The entire seven-person Politburo Standing Committee (PBSC), effectively Xi's cabinet, is now composed of loyalists who either owe their careers to Xi's patronage or whose views align with his policy agenda.”
- “Xi has driven the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) more deeply into Chinese political, social, and economic life, while constraining the influence of foreign ideas and economic competition.” There is in effect a return to the thinking of the late chairman Mao in the famous analogy of the cat. Does the cat need to be pure red in colour, its colour being more important than its ability to catch mice (Chairman Mao)? Or is it relatively unimportant what colour of red the cat is, as long as it is good at catching mice (Deng Xiaoping)? “Beijing's regulatory scrutiny in tech, entertainment and beyond will grow as Xi attempts to mould the economy to best achieve his views for China's 'national rejuvenation’”.
- Xi has abandoned Deng’s low-profile foreign policy in favour of one that is ambitious and expansive. “Chinese foreign policy has been transformed in recent years. China is poised to become a true global power. These trends demonstrate an unprecedented level of confidence. This is a significant change from the Chinese foreign policy defined by Deng Xiaoping as ‘Lay low, never take the lead, and bide our time.’” China wants to lead the world. The next five years will show numerous ways in which Xi aims to do so.
My China loving friends are rightly proud at China’s amazing rise to power. But, if I may, I need to ask them a question - are these trends good for the ordinary Chinese citizen in the street and on the farm, or just for the CCP?
Pray for Xi Jinping and his politburo colleagues.
Pray that there will be voices heard that speak about the problems the ordinary man and woman in China faces.
Pray for the church in China which will face stormy waters in the next five years.