The EastIsRed Minutes of the 20th CPC Congress
The 20e Chinese Communist Party Congress ended seven days ago. After the first guide to the stakes of this event, we draw the first conclusions. An article prepared by Pierre Sel.
The Congress had to seal the maintenance in power of its secretary general, Xi Jinping. Thereby, the academic and journalistic consensus was counting on a clear appointment of the current General Secretary of the CCP, in particular via a majority of its faithful within the governing bodies of the Party - the political office and its permanent committee. He was expected to elevate the importance given to his thought within the theoretical corpus guiding the action of the Party..
Despite these predictions, yet conservative, the 20th Party Congress managed to surprise. What happened during this 20th Congress of the Chinese Communist Party ? EastIsRed offers you a review of the three key elements : the political report, or the political program for the next five years, the inventory of appointments, or the super majority of “Xi’s men”, and finally the revisions to the charter of the Party, that legitimize the pre-eminence of Xi Jinping.
1/ The political report of the Congress
The Congress opened with an hour and a half speech by General Secretary Xi Jinping. The speech itself is made up of excerpts from a political report, presented every five years, serving both as a record of the work carried out and as a program. This year, ce rapport of 72 pages and about 30.000 signs is soberly called “hold high the banner of socialism with Chinese characteristics and work together for the comprehensive construction of a modern socialist country”.
specify that it is not a work relationship (work report) but from a political relationship (political report). Therefore, the questions of certain observers with regard to the “omissions” of the report – in particular relating to international relations or economic problems – don't make sense. Political reports aim to indicate the main political and ideological orientations of the Party, and not to discuss public policy. Furthermore, contrary to what has been said, the report is not shorter than previous editions.
Chinese style modernization, political program
If most of the topics covered in the report are not new, that introduces a new theme largely taken up by the propaganda : the “Chinese-style modernization” (Chinese modernization). This term, noted for the first time by Xi Jinping in 2019, is a political agenda for the years to come. He is described as “the main mission and task of the Communist Party for the new era.” This modernization must be carried out in two stages, with a first period of 2020 at 2035, that of “socialist modernization”, then 2035 at 2049, that of socialist prosperity. These dates are not new, however., and already appear in the report of the previous Congress. This section n°3 also gives an overview of the goals for the next five years, foremost among which is the strengthening of the socialist market economy and its self-sufficiency, especially in terms of technology.
Another key element of this Chinese-style modernization, “common prosperity” (Common prosperity), first appeared in 2021. Behind this new concept hides the desire (or at least the ambition) to tackle inequalities. It did not escape the press but especially investors that the political report includes a passage on the regulation of high incomes. The text is concerned in particular with the excessive accumulation of income and encourages more redistribution. And article de Beijing News, citing a labor law researcher further asserts that “a few people have accumulated wealth too quickly […] this problem remains to be solved“. To reach this goal, the Party will have to undertake serious economic and institutional reforms, remember however researcher Mary Gallagher, because they imply a redistribution of income to households to the detriment of the party-state.
On the tone of the speech and more broadly of the report, we find a cocktail of triumphalism, and great aspirations for the future of the nation, despite the presence of hidden dangers. This triumphalism can be seen in the list of successes achieved in ten years and is equaled only by the aspiration to achieve the modernization of China and the “nation rejuvenation”. This aspiration for future success is coupled with global ambitions, presenting future China as “a great modern socialist country that leads the world in terms of forces [and influence] international by the middle of the century”. Finally, the text warns of “external blackmail attempts, containment and blockade [aiming to] exert maximum pressure on China”.
The tifas, indicators of future trends ?
Armed with the power of the Excel spreadsheet, some searched for trends in the report by counting keywords, or more exactly official formulations, the famous "tifa” (formulation). The example most cited in the press is that of “national security”, which appears 73 times in the report. No surprise here since the concept of global security is at the heart of the political agenda of the Chinese first secretary since 2012. The term is so encompassing that there are “guides” to better understand its meaning.
Nevertheless, it is necessary to qualify the method of analysis by keyword. The selection of tifa relevant requires expertise in key Party concepts and it is not enough to choose at random. As David Bandurski of the ChinaMediaProject, repeating the experiment with the keyword “democracy” makes no sense, because the word is found in both “democratic centralism” and “full-process democracy”. Likewise, the word security refers to different : “national security” appears much more than in the previous report, but the edition 2022 sees other forms of security flourish (energy, territorial, ideological).
David Bandurski also notices the absence of the term “political reforms” (political reform). The term, however, was constant in Party reports for years 1980, and signaled the will, no democratic reform, but to allow a degree of popular or at least third-party participation. If the appearance of this formulation peaked at the end of the years 2000, il survived in Korean 2017 in the report of the 19th Congress. This time, he is absent and the political reforms, in the liberal sense of the word, are permanently buried. He likes it, Xi gives vision of “institutional reforms”, aimed de facto at strengthening the pre-eminence of the party.
2/ Appointments - central committee, politburo and politburo standing committee
In our guide EastIsRed of the 20th Congress, we presented the main speculations and the names of the candidates in the race for the standing committee of the political office. The consensus of China watcher was about a summit assembly between the “faction of Xi”, composed of men who are faithful or indebted to it, and the opposition, remnants of the Youth League faction of the Party (Tuanpai) and the Shanghai faction. Investors hoped for a Liberal-looking prime minister, comme Wang Yang ou Hu Chunhua. In a word, everyone expected a clear supremacy from Xi Jinping's group, which nevertheless spared its competitors, offering them a form of consolation.
Xi's men in command
These predictions were shattered as soon as the list of members of the Central Committee, of the political office and its permanent office published. The new club of seven is only made up of allies or followers of the general secretary. EastIsRed devotes a series to these seven men d’articles presenting them. From the former Standing Committee, there is only left Zhao Leji et Wang Huning, considered close and allies of Xi Jinping. The four newcomers are loyal to the Secretary General. Li Keqiang and Wang Yang are not even among the 200 central committee members. Hu Chunhua, tipped to join the standing committee, is demoted as a simple member of the central committee. Chen Quanguo also loses his seat.
This politburo consecrates the power of engineers and scientists. According to the observations of SCMP, close to 6 of its new members have science degrees, ranging from aerospace (Ma Xingrui & Yang Jiajun) to nuclear engineering (Li Ganjie, who studied in France in the years 1990). To the central committee, these are 29 members with science and engineering degrees. Some of the nominees even have national fame since Huang Qiang, gouverneur du Sichuan, would have participated in the development of the J-20 combat aircraft. This rise in power of engineers and scientists seems logical in a context where China is advancing at a forced pace towards autonomy or even technological autarky..
The traditional factions, with fuzzy limits and sometimes light definitions, no longer exist. The Youth League, who had received a fatal blow in 2014 with the arrest of Ling Jihua, now only counts Hu Chunhua as a top "member". Existing faction models will need to be updated, so much the current situation is that of an absolute domination of the “faction of Xi”. At this stage of concentration of power, even political figures belonging to other factions are forced, for their political survival, see you reattach to the central figure of the Party.
Le cas Hu Jintao
An elephant has slipped into the millimeter ballet of Congress, Sunday 23 october. Former Party First Secretary and predecessor of Xi Jinping, Hu Jintao is escorted out of the National People's Palace under the guard of a bailiff. The scene goes around the world. One hour later, Xinhua (in English) publishes a tweet stating that Hu Jintao is out due to illness. Since, the questions fuse : purge ? disease ? gratuitous humiliation of the former “leader” of the youth league faction ?
Looking at the pictures, widely disseminated and commented on, it becomes clear that Hu is asked to leave the room against his will. Here are the pictures. After the closing ceremony, Seul Li Ruihuan (only former executive who did not applaud Xi during the opening ceremony) and Hu also did not participate in the meetings with the delegates. Contrary to what has been said, Hu Jintao has not been 'purged' from the Chinese internet, and as noted by Bill Bishop of Sinocism, it appears in the reportage Same evening CCTV.
Wu Guoguang's comments, professor at the University of Victoria and former adviser to Zhao Ziyang ring true on this sequence. In his interview on the podcast “bumingbai”, he underlines this sad spectacle of a humiliated old man ignored by those to whom he allowed a political ascent. Li Keqiang, perceived as Hu's protege is not even giving him a look. In his response, Wu points to the “fundamental lack of decency” of these executives, “able to regurgitate a litany about service to the masses, but unable to empathize with an elderly character”.
3/ Change in the Party Charter
Last but not least, amendments to the Party Charter. This document is both the Party's organizational manual but also its ideological compass.. Contrary to the expectations of specialists, Xi Jinping n'a (for the moment) failed to obtain the title of “Supreme Leader of the People” (people leader) and the reduction of its “theoretical” contribution to “Xi Jinping Thought”. IIt is not impossible that the change will occur in the coming months, but in the short term the Party retains certain taboos and prohibitions.
Despite this “failure” for Xi, his “thought on socialism with Chinese characteristics of the new era” still received a subtle theoretical elevation. In a article from 22 October of the People's Daily devoted to the ideological lessons of Congress, a new formulation has attracted attention. This new tifa invites to consider the doctrine of Xi as a “vision of the world” (world view) and as “methodology” (methodology). This is the first time that Xi's doctrinal corpus has received these titles, usually reserved for the thought of Mao. This is a small victory for Xi.
Regarding the exact text of the amendments to the Party Charter, the text was unveiled on 26 october. The “two confirmations” (two established) have been added, with the “two respects” (two maintenance) and the “four consciousnesses” (four senses). These additions aim to enshrine Xi Jinping's place at the heart of the Party and the Party at the heart of the regime.. According to the communiqué accompanying the text, an important place was given in the revision of the charter to the ideological struggle (struggle) but also to self-revolution (self revolution) – term used to describe the transformational work that executives have to do to change their work ethic and refuse corruption.
This 20th Congress will have finally brought more change than expected. The signals heralded Xi's growing power, and this consolidation exceeds forecasts. The destruction of the Youth League network, inherited from the Hu Jintao period, is complete. Loyalists are in power and Xi Jinping now has even greater leeway than at previous congresses. It is too early to wonder to what extent the factions will be recomposed within the executive apparatus. – different tendencies within the Xi team for example ? Likewise, the absolute dominance of the Xi team can be beneficial to advance on key reforms : a benefit if the reforms are well designed but a major political risk in the event of failure.
Beyond the Musical Chairs of China's Great Leaders and Xi's Dominance, equally important is the new national and political narrative it unfolds. Sometimes described by Geremie Barmé, sinologist and founder of China Heritage, as the “great unifier”, Xi Jinping indeed presents himself as an almost messianic figure who has “solved” the problems inherited from his predecessors. According to the official narrative, he ended poverty, completed the construction of a moderately prosperous society, achieved great successes in the fight against corruption or in the zero covid policy. On the theoretical level, he modernized Marxist thought and thereby made a “significant” contribution to socialist thought.
Xi Jinping is a fine connoisseur of Party history and knows how to use it to announce his intentions and ambitions. At each new mandate, it is customary for the first secretary to take his standing committee to studies. In 2012, he had taken his colleagues to an exhibition called “on the road to the great rebirth of the Chinese nation.” In 2017, China's seven leaders went to Shanghai, at the site of the First Congress of the Communist Party of China, to remember the “original mission” (Do not forget the original intention). The 27 october, Xi and his subordinates went to Yan'an, base of the Communist Party during the war against Japan. More specifically, he visited the site of the 7th Party Congress, the one where according to the historian Gao Hua, Mao definitively triumphed over his opponents. “Armed with the spirit of Yan'an, prepared for the fight, achieve the objectives of the 20th Congress”, Xi said. The message is clear.