The 20th Congress of the Communist Party of China (CCP) is expected to re-elect Xi Jinping for another term as general secretary, but now under the title of chairman, an honour granted only to Mao Zedong. This had been planned since the last congress held five years ago.
By Marcos Margarido
The week-long Twentieth Party Congress was opened on October 16 by Xi Jinping with a two-hour report in which he took stock of the last mandate and emphasized the main themes for the next five-year period. Xi spoke to an audience of 2,296 delegates representing the party’s more than 96 million members, a ratio of one delegate to about 42,000 members.
In addition to confirming his nomination as chairman of the party, the congress is expected to unanimously uphold all the guidelines set out in Jinping’s inaugural speech, in the areas of the economy, foreign affairs, domestic policy, etc.
This is no surprise, given that delegates go through a “rigorous and meticulous electoral process” (as stated by the state-run Xinhua news agency) of five stages, from the first nominations in 38 electoral units representing provinces, state-owned enterprises, the central financial sector and central authorities, to the confirmation of the congress participants by the Organisation Department. It is not the membership that elects the pre-candidates, but the Committees of each electoral unit, based, according to the head of the CCP’s organising department, Chen Xi, on the loyalty, competence and integrity of the candidates and, above all, on their commitment to party doctrine, including loyalty to Xi. In other words, it is impossible to vote against the party’s guidelines in Congress.
The re-election of Xi Jinping
In his speech, Xi did not touch on the subject of his re-election, nor did he need to, as it was predetermined. When the panel discussions convened on the next day, members of the party’s Politburo (Political, or Executive, Committee) introduced the discussion on the “two establishments.”
Ding Xuexiang, who is seen as a strong candidate for the Politburo Standing Committee, hailed Xi’s achievements over the past decade and pledged support for the “two establishments.” And General Xu Qiliang, the second in charge of the Central Military Commission, told representatives of the People’s Liberation Army that they must unwaveringly “obey Xi’s commands” in all their actions. Similar statements were made by leading party members.
The “two establishments” were included in a resolution adopted by the Central Committee in November last year. It refers to establishing Xi’s status as the “unquestionable core leader of the Party” and establishing his political doctrine as the Party’s “guiding principles for a new era.” These amendments to the Party Statute put “Xi Jinping Thought” on the same level as “Mao Zedong Thought”. Will we also see a “little red book” by Xi? Certainly.
So, Xi can already be considered the chairman of the CCP, replacing the post of general secretary, which will cease to exist, although the “election” will only take place on Saturday, the last day of the Congress. Let us see, then, the main policies outlined in his inaugural speech.
The economic policy
His report adopted a triumphalist tone, which stressed overcoming the obstacles caused by a “severe and complex international situation” for the past “extremely unusual and extraordinary” five years in pursuit of the “great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation.” “Great changes not seen for a century” have been harnessed by the party to build a “moderately prosperous society” and elimination of extreme poverty, he claimed.
The “great rejuvenation” is a theme that will certainly be part of his “little red book.”
According to Xi, the party now has a new central task: to achieve the “goal of transforming China into a great modern socialist country in all aspects and advance the rejuvenation of the Chinese nation on all fronts through the Chinese path to modernisation in the second centenary“. Following the centenary celebrations of the founding of the CCP in 2019, Xi refers to the centenary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China – which will be in 2049 – but Xi has brought forward the achievement of such goals to 2035, leaving open the possibility that he will still be in charge thirteen years from now.
That is, the move from a “moderately prosperous society” to a fully prosperous one would happen in 2035 as the economy modernises from “high-speed growth to high-quality growth“, according to Jiang Deyi, chairman of Chinese car manufacturers group BAIC and a congressional delegate.
The insistence on “high-quality development” goes hand in hand with the tacit acceptance that China is entering a period of slower economic growth,  and the attempt to transform an export-based economy to one of expanded domestic consumption and higher value-added products through “supply-side structural reforms”. However, such reform efforts have been repeatedly tried since Xi took power in 2012, without much success in this change of the Chinese economic model.
Another recurring theme is the slogan of “shared prosperity”, which hypothetically signals a new focus on reducing economic inequality. However, this theme is not new either and the general guidelines for the reduction of inequality mentioned by Xi have been also tried repeatedly without success. “We will ensure more pay for more work and encourage people to achieve prosperity through hard work,” Xi said. That is economic growth at the expense of increased exploitation of the working class.
However, a glance at the independent Chinese press is enough to verify that “shared prosperity” is a myth. According to the China Labour Bulletin website, a Hong Kong-based labour rights NGO, almost all of the 350 strikes mapped in the last six months are due to unpaid labour obligations such as back wages and severance pay, mainly by construction companies. In the technology sector, which is also experiencing a reduction in economic activity, outsourced workers, who make up about half of the sector’s workforce, have stopped receiving their overtime pay, which is vital to their livelihood, and has been replaced by severance pay which, as we saw above, is never paid. Unemployment among youth aged 18 to 24 has increased for four consecutive months, reaching 20% in July this year. The workers suffer layoffs in the steel and cement production sectors, due to reduced activity in construction, and nurses are underpaid – a worldwide phenomenon – as they give their lives to face COVID.
It could not be any other way. After all, the goal of “transforming China into a great modern socialist country” is a myth vaunted by Xi and the Stalinist and Castro-Chavista parties scattered around the world. Prosperity is common only for the increasingly prosperous party elite and the Chinese bourgeoisie, who never tire of praising the great statesmen of the CCP, even adapting to the “socialist” language of the leaders.
For example, Jia Kang, former head of the Research Institute of the Ministry of Finance and now president of an economic think-tank, said that “we must emphasise the central government’s directive on the ‘traffic light mechanism’: capital is neutral, and is no longer bloody and dirty as described by Marx in Capital.” The Chinese and African working classes, exploited by Chinese and foreign tycoons, say so, so it must be true…
State-owned vs. privately-owned enterprises
This topic was not detailed by Xi in his speech, beyond the usual promises of unabashed commitment to increasing market openness. But it is worth dwelling on some figures on the Chinese economy, because of commonly accepted statements by the Stalinist and reformist left that China under Xi is increasingly strengthening the state sector at the expense of the private economy, proving that the road to socialism is laid out.
The “traffic light mechanism,” praised by the economics consultant and supporter of “neutral capital,” means a green light for companies that follow the rules and a red one for those that do not. In other words, as Marx said, eliminating the greedy capitalists who want to increase their profits beyond the average level through the overexploitation of workers or by resorting to methods not acceptable to the market, to save capitalism itself. Exploit and get rich, yes, but let’s respect the rules so that we can all get rich equally, and that the differences among us arise from technological innovations so that our nation can achieve “common prosperity” is the message of the CCP to the most dashing businessmen.
This is not to say that the private sector in China is in tatters. Quite the contrary, although the current phase of economic downturn discourages new investments, which is the common result of all capitalist economies in times of economic crisis. Let us look at some performance data from the private sector.
The private economy is significant, as it contributes more than half of the country’s tax revenues, represents 60% of GDP, and dominates the high-tech sector. More than 405 million people worked for private companies or were self-employed in 2019, equivalent to about 29% of China’s population, according to government data.
The number of private companies in China has more than tripled in a decade to 47 million at the end of August this year – with the creation of 11.8 million companies since the start of the coronavirus pandemic – and they account for 93.3% of all companies, according to the State Administration of Market Regulation, attributing the growth during the pandemic to Beijing’s unprecedented efforts to protect the private business.
Private investment accounted for 56.9% of total investment last year, surpassing 2020, and the combined revenue of the top 500 private companies rose 9.1% to US$ 5.3 trillion last year, according to the semi-official China Federation of Industry and Commerce.
While the above figures help dispel the myth of the end of the private sector in China’s economy, that doesn’t mean that an increasing economic downturn and the possibility of a recession in the country won’t lead the Chinese government to strengthen the state sector, on the one hand, to save the private companies themselves, and on the other to prevent a rise in workers’ struggles against the attacks to come. But this is an analysis that is beyond the scope of this article.
The crisis involving Taiwan
Taiwan has today become one of the main points of friction between US imperialism and China, the importance of which can be seen when Xi established that the incorporation of Taiwan is a key part of the “great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation”. The U.S. government, on the one hand, exercises its self-assigned role as a defender of freedom in the world (which, actually, most people reject) and the CCP defending that its policy of “one country, two systems” (which, since the capitalist restoration in China, is a fable) be respected.
Xi responded to this in a purposefully dubious way. On the one hand, in an allusion to the semi-colonisation of Taiwan by the U.S., he said that “We will continue to strive for peaceful reunification with the utmost sincerity and the greatest effort, but we never promise to renounce the use of force and reserve the option to take all necessary measures… The complete reunification of the nation absolutely must be realised, and it absolutely will be realised!“
To make this clear to the Biden administration, Xi reiterated his opposition to any foreign involvement, insisting that “the resolution of the Taiwan question is a matter for the Chinese, a matter that must be resolved by the Chinese.”
On the other hand, now in an allusion to the Taiwanese people, he said that “On this basis, we will hold broad and deep consultations on cross-strait relations and national reunification with people from all political parties, sectors and social strata in Taiwan, and work with them to promote the peaceful development of cross-strait relations and advance China’s peaceful reunification process.“
No war, no peace. However, by not setting a concrete timetable for a possible occupation of the island, as he did in Hong Kong, Xi has left the question open but places the issue as central to his foreign policy.
It is clear that neither the U.S. is concerned about the freedom of the Taiwanese, nor the Chinese government about the peaceful development of relations with the island. What is at stake is the ongoing war for technological hegemony in the 5G sector, which began with Trump and was further reinforced by Biden.
China relies on imports for the supply of high-tech chips. It spends more on semiconductor imports than on oil. Among the top fifteen semiconductor companies by sales, there is not a single Chinese company.
The high-tech chip industry is made up of a global supply chain, with design in the United States; manufacturing in Taiwan and South Korea; assembly, packaging and testing in China; and equipment from the Netherlands. China aims to dominate manufacturing in Taiwan and thus cease to be dependent on imports from U.S.-controlled factories.
This is an issue that seems secondary, but the fight against corruption is part of the “traffic light mechanism” on the one hand and a weapon for the control of dissident sectors within the CCP, on the other. Any leader who ventures to oppose the official line can receive a corrupt stamp and suffer years in prison and re-education camps.
Xi again stated that the fight against corruption must continue, without “any minute’s rest“, and hailed “an overwhelming victory” against corruption in the past ten years. And he made clear that the party would continue to pursue corrupt family members [of party leaders] and aides to senior officials.
In his report to congress, he emphasised that a “new great struggle” was needed and that the party’s internal reconstruction had been ineffective. And he cited that “Misguided patterns of thought, such as money worship, hedonism, egocentrism and historical nihilism were common.“
This statement is unusual, to say the least, given that Xi Jinping is among those who can be called money worshippers, as he has a fortune of unknown origin estimated at US$ 1.5 billion, making him part of the country’s exclusive family of 400 billionaires.
We will not touch on other issues, sufficiently covered by the mainstream media, such as the maintenance of the no-tolerance policy for the COVID pandemic, with the closing of borders, mass testing, invasive digital surveillance, quarantines and lockdowns. Or on the Silk Road Initiative, which had a rather reduced weight in Xi’s speech, both on the economic issue and on foreign policy, compared to other times.