Forget Article 50, forget Trump’s inauguration, the most important political event of 2017 was last month’s Party Congress in China.
The National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is held twice a decade to decide the line up of the Party leadership and to set the tone of the CCP’s future governance of China. This October’s Party Congress was the 19th in the Party’s history, and it marked the beginning of a “New Era” for China, and for the world.
In the run up to the Party Congress, there was a lot of speculation as to how much the Party’s already powerful leader, Xi Jinping, would consolidate his authority. The answer? A lot. Some China watchers thought that Xi would break conventions on retirement age to keep his main man, Wang Qishan, in power.
He didn’t, but Xi did manage to stack the line-up of the CCP leadership with loyalists and political dead enders who pose little threat to his authority. Crucially, Xi didn’t elevate any younger leaders to the Party’s (and thus China’s) top leadership group, the Politburo Standing Committee. This means that Xi has no clear heir apparent and suggests that he might be looking to pull a Putin come 2022, when he’s due to retire.
But in reality, Xi doesn’t need a title to make him the most powerful person in China. Another big takeaway from the Party Congress is the addition of “Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era” to the “guiding ideology” section of the Party constitution.
This cumbersome phrase sounds unimportant, but it’s not. Adding “Xi Jinping Thought” to the Constitution makes Xi second only to Mao Zedong in the party pantheon. This means that going against Xi now means going against the Party, which is probably the most heinous crime that a member of the CCP can commit.
So, Xi won big, but that’s not why the Party Congress is so important. No matter how imperial Xi’s power looks, it’s the Party that matters most. And no matter how capitalistic Communist China seems, the Party still governs based on a Leninist power structure and an understanding, albeit a very weird one, of Marxist ideology.
From a European perspective, it’s hard to understand a country having a “historic mission”, but China has one. At the Party Congress, Xi said that China had entered a new stage, a “New Era” in its mission to become a “great Socialist country” by 2050.
According to the Party’s narrative, you can now divide modern China’s history into three eras, governed by three great leaders. After a century of humiliation at the hands of imperial aggressors, Mao Zedong made China “stand up” and started the first stage of national recovery. Deng Xiaoping then made the country rich by giving Marxism a little hand from the free market.
Post-Party Congress, China is in a “New Era”, and it’s now Xi Jinping’s job to make China strong.
Domestically, this means China’s transition into a developed, balanced economy. Xi seems to like doing things the neo-authoritarian way, so it probably also means the further establishment of a digital totalitarian state.
Internationally, the “New Era” means making China a global power. In his report to the Party Congress, Xi said that China would move “closer to centre stage” and that China’s model provided a “new option for other countries” to follow.
The Party Congress is important because it marks the moment when China begins to consider itself a global leader and a viable alternative to the liberal democratic model.
Xi believes that the Party has a lot to offer humanity. He’s keen to turn the world, under Chinese leadership, into what he calls a “destiny community of humankind”. In other words, China’s “historic mission” applies not only to China, but to the entire planet.