China’s largest and most important political event, the Chinese Communist Party (CPC) National Congress, convened for its 19th session in Beijing on Wednesday amid tight security.
The purpose of the summit, which takes place only twice a decade, is to decide who will govern China and the direction the country will take over the next five years. Delegates approve new policies and choose the leaders of China’s key political organizations.
For each CPC congress, the Communist Party elite take part in largely ceremonial elections to decide on a General Secretary (currently President Xi Jinping), the 25 members of the Central Political Bureau (Politburo) and the 5-9 members of its top decision-making Standing Committee (PSC), the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection, and the Chinese Central Military Commission. This year, nearly three quarters of the Politburo Standing Committee are predicted to retire or be replaced.
The 19th congress will also assign “socialism with Chinese characteristics for a new era” as the guiding ideology of the Communist Party.
Chinese president and Communist Party General Secretary Xi Jinping addressed the 2,287 delegates in attendance Wednesday. The congress marks the end of his first 5-year term as party chief, and Xi is widely expected to use it as an opportunity to reinforce his position as one of China’s most powerful and forceful leaders since Mao Zedong.
Mr. Xi began his nearly 4-hour-long speech by citing the country’s achievements under his leadership, claiming that the political and economic ideology of “socialism with Chinese characteristics” is a “great creation”, and that it is now entering “a new era”.
The Chinese president told delegates in the Great Hall of the People in Beijing that because of China’s “tireless struggle” it stands “tall and firm in the East”. He announced that the Communist Party must “always share our fate with the people, always keep a better life for the people in mind”.
When Xi Jinping took power in 2012, many analysts predicted that he would reform the Communist Party and loosen its authoritarian grasp on the country. In fact, the opposite has happened. The Chinese president used his speech to laud the success of his corruption crackdown, in which more than a million allegedly crooked officials have been arrested over the last 5 years. Critics claim the leader has used corruption charges as a means of silencing dissenters within the party.
Mr. Xi has also stepped up efforts to suppress any speech critical of the Communist Party. Lawyers, journalists and activists are aggressively monitored by the state and many have simply “disappeared”. His government has substantially increased policing and censorship of the Internet and maintains a firm grasp over television broadcasts and the press. Andrew Nathan, an expert in Chinese human rights issues at Columbia University, told the Guardian: “The crackdown has been going on for a long time and seems to really represent a vision of how society should be — that it should fall into line and should be unified. So I don’t expect a significant let-up after the congress.”
The CPC has made a concerted effort to crack down on any dissent in the run-up to the summit over the past few weeks. Many attorneys, journalists and political activists have been arrested, put under house arrest, or temporarily moved away from the capital by force.
The Chinese president has been equally tough on the “special administrative region” of Hong Kong. In his speech he asserted that China would never allow the “one country, two systems” model, within which Hong Kong operates, to be “bent or distorted”. He also said that activists campaigning for independence from China would “not be tolerated”. “We will never allow anyone, any organization, or any political party, at any time or in any form, to separate any part of Chinese territory from China,” said Xi.
Regarding foreign policy, Mr. Xi declared that: “No country alone can handle all the challenges that mankind faces and no country can retreat into self-isolation”, in what appears to be a reference to the nationalist movement within the United States.
He said that China plans to continue “its peaceful and independent foreign policy, uphold international justice, and refrain from interfering in other countries’ domestic affairs”. This was most likely a criticism of foreign governments voicing concerns over China’s human rights record, or criticizing its treatment of minority groups in Tibet and Xinjiang province. The Chinese government firmly maintains that its domestic issues are of no concern to the outside world.
Mr. Xi also insisted that: “China’s growth does not pose threats to any nations and China will never pursue hegemony or seek expansionist policies, even if it rises to become and international power”. However, he then went on to praise the country’s controversial military island construction as one of his major accomplishments. China claims the entire South China Sea — which runs along the coasts of Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and the Philippines — as its own territory.
Shortly after the 19th congress concludes next week, the Chinese state media is expected to announce the newest members of China’s Politburo Standing Committee, along with several other key positions.
Latest Updates from the 19th Chinese Communist Party Congress:
Watch the CPC National Congress Opening Ceremony and President Xi Jinping’s 3.5-hour-long speech in full.
According to Bloomberg, the second day of China’s Communist Party summit was dominated by economic news. The central bank chief played down speculation that the yuan might be allowed to trade more freely.
China’s 19th Communist Party Congress in pictures.