The international community’s response to President Xi Jinping’s address to the 20th Party Congress in Beijing is lukewarm, with the general refrain being that the Chinese strong man failed to move beyond rhetoric while addressing his national and international concerns.
If the world expected more from Xi, it felt disappointed, but China watchers insist the Congress was just an occasion for the president to consolidate his power and his role in the party and the country, and nothing more.
His speech, which was much shorter than his address to the 19th Party Congress is being deconstructed para by para and will shortly be a subject to academic research to expose any hidden meanings. But there are none.
One of his opening remarks go starkly against the reality of impaired Chinese economy and people’s general unrest, which was reflected in the rare exposition of protest banners that came up in Beijing.
“The Party’s new theory for the new era has been embraced by the people, the core socialist values are resonating with the public, fine traditional Chinese culture is undergoing creative transformation and development, cultural programs are flourishing, and the online environment has seen continuous improvement. All this has brought overarching and fundamental changes in China’s ideological landscape.”
Xi literally hides one of the country’s biggest problems deep inside his speech. The twin problem areas are the slowing down population along with rising population of the old and infirm, and the fact that the young Chinese are simply not taking up on the government’s relaxation of the policy on having children to boost population growth. He dismisses it in a small paragraph: “… 1.04 billion people under the coverage of basic old-age insurance, and ensure basic medical insurance for 95 per cent of the population. Timely adjustments have been made to the childbirth policy.”
The president also tries to take global attention away from the utter failure of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) project that has nearly crippled the financial position of many Chinese banks because of bad lendings. He tries to paint a positive picture of the project: “As a collaborative endeavor, the Belt and Road Initiative has been welcomed by the international community both as a public good and a cooperation platform. China has become a major trading partner for more than 140 countries and regions, it leads the world in total volume of trade in goods, and it is a major destination for global investment and a leading country in outbound investment.”
There is no reference to the fact that China has on-going disputes, all of them started by it, with all countries it has land or sea borders with, including India. Instead, Xi says something that nobody believes: “China respects the sovereignty and territorial integrity of all countries. It stays true to the principle of equality of all countries big or small, strong or weak, and rich or poor, and it respects the development paths and social systems independently chosen by all the world’s peoples.”
He is equally reticent on the forced Sinicization of Uyghur Muslims and other religious minorities. “We have effectively contained ethnic separatists, religious extremists, and violent terrorists and secured important progress in the campaigns to combat and root out organized crime. We have responded effectively to major natural disasters. The Peaceful China Initiative has entered a new stage.”
The president makes a weak attempt to ingratiate China with the international community, seeking its place on the high table of global relationships, but once again, finds no takers for his argument.
“We have demonstrated China’s sense of duty as a responsible major country, actively participating in the reform and development of the global governance system and engaging in all-around international cooperation in the fight against Covid-19. All this has seen us win widespread international recognition. China’s international influence, appeal, and power to shape have risen markedly.”
On the monetary policy of China, Xi talks about trading on his national currency, which is already well-known.
“We will promote the internationalization of the RMB in an orderly way, deeply involve ourselves in the global industrial division of labor and cooperation, and endeavor to preserve the diversity and stability of the international economic landscape and economic and trade relations.”
The only time the Chinese President showed his steely determination to get his way was when referring to Taiwan and the American backing of the island nation that refuses to be part of mainland China.
“Taiwan is China’s Taiwan. Resolving the Taiwan question is a matter for the Chinese, a matter that must be resolved by the Chinese. We will continue to strive for peaceful reunification with the greatest sincerity and the utmost effort, but we will never promise to renounce the use of force, and we reserve the option of taking all measures necessary. This is directed solely at interference by outside forces and the few separatists seeking ‘Taiwan independence’ and their separatist activities; it is by no means targeted at our Taiwan compatriots.”