The 19th Chinese Communist Party (CCP) Central Committee concluded its fourth plenary session late last month. A communique released after the session contained the hidden message that Chinese President Xi Jinping’s (習近平) primary tasks would be to consolidate the core leadership, follow the collective ideology and reject divergent opinions.
The fourth plenary sessions of previous committees mostly handled major personnel appointments and proposed policies, but since Xi last year amended the Chinese constitution to abolish the term limit on the presidency, there has been no talk of a successor. At the same time, as China faces both internal and external challenges, the fourth plenary session made its main purpose the consolidation of the public’s confidence in the CCP-led government.
When analyzing the session, Xinhua news agency highlighted 14 key terms, including “one country, two systems,” which was different from the fourth plenary session of past committees.
The latest session was in effect a declaration of Xi’s handling of domestic and international challenges.
The communique made “socialism with Chinese characteristics in Xi’s new era” its guiding principle and once again consolidated the core leadership, and “Xi Jinping Thought“ was elevated to the level of former leaders Mao Zedong (毛澤東) and Deng Xiaoping (鄧小平).
This made it clear that Chinese must see the consolidation of the core leadership as the main task and make the CCP’s instructions their first priority.
Before the session, the CCP’s Central Commission for Discipline Inspection detained 25 officials for taking bribes or making illegal gains in just five days, from Oct. 21 to Oct. 25.
Judging from Xi’s crackdown on corruption, he is making a forceful effort to eliminate internal maladies. Economic growth, which has been slowing in the past few years, together with the US-China trade dispute further add to Xi’s challenges.
The IMF has forecast that China’s economic growth could drop to 5.8 percent next year due to the trade dispute and falling domestic demand. Fortunately, a temporary truce seems to have been reached in the dispute.
Xi’s goal is the “rejuvenation of the Chinese nation,” and the main condition for that is boosting China’s international position.
For many years, China has firmly believed in and practiced the theory that national strength is determined by economic power. Although Beijing has stepped up its crackdown on corruption under Xi, a slowing global economy and the decline in domestic demand are unarguable facts, so it inevitably will try to speed up a trade agreement with Washington.
Moreover, China’s “one country, two systems” policy has been severely challenged by the breakout of the pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong.
Beijing made a rare mention of “one country, two systems” in the communique, stating that China would govern Hong Kong in accordance with the Chinese constitution as well as the Basic Law of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region.
In the communique, the promotion of “the peaceful unification of the motherland” focused on accelerating cross-strait economic and trade exchanges, and integrating people on both sides of the Taiwan Strait.
Beijing is hoping that the people on both sides will gradually learn to know each other and establish a good rapport through the integration of social development.
Following China’s release in February last year of 31 measures to attract Taiwanese businesspeople and professionals, each Chinese province came up with its “localized” incentives. After the fourth plenary session ended, China’s Taiwan Affairs Office (TAO) released another set of 26 measures.
With a more concrete description of the measures, Beijing is purposely highlighting that it will not change the peaceful unification process even if the Democratic Progressive Party remains in power. Rather, it hopes to change Taiwan through autonomous integration and a bottom-up approach.
In Xi’s words: “One must be strong enough to forge iron.”
The fourth plenary session was a necessary stage to consolidate his thoughts and further concentrate power in his hands.
China’s economic freedom will not lead to systemic reform. What Xi is trying to prove is that the “peaceful evolution” advocated by the US will not happen in China — not now, not in the future.
Chen Yi-hsuan is an assistant research fellow at the National Policy Foundation.
Translated by Eddy Chang
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