- by Eileen Whitehead
- The Guardian
- Issue #2031
Photo: Thomas Galvez – flickr.com (CC BY 2.0)
Every five years, the delegates of the Communist Party of China (CPC) – 96 million members – meet to elect its top leaders and set the future direction of the party. Its 20th Congress was held from 16th - 22nd October, 2022.
One of the main themes of the congress this year was “rejuvenation” of the country through “a Chinese path to modernisation,” and in his report to congress, Xi Jinping, the CPC’s general secretary, sketched out the way forward to build China “into a modern socialist country.”
Xi spoke about the situation that the Chinese people faced a decade ago, mentioning the great achievements that had been secured in reform, opening up, and socialist modernisation. He did not, however, ignore the number of prominent issues and problems which had been building for years or those just emerging, which demanded urgent action. Xi mentioned the “slide toward weak, hollow, and watered-down party leadership,” pointing out that “money worship, hedonism, egocentricity, and historical nihilism” were deep-seated problems in a development process that was “imbalanced, uncoordinated, and unsustainable”: a significant self-criticism made by the leader of the country for the past decade.
The history of the CPC is remarkable, going from the eleventh poorest country in the world in 1949 to become the world’s second-largest economy, growing from 58.8 trillion yuan in 2013 to 114.37 trillion yuan in 2021. In terms of the world economy, China’s GDP was 18.5 per cent of the global total in 2021, and the country was responsible for thirty per cent of world economic growth from 2013 to 2021. China also manufactured thirty per cent of the world’s goods in 2021, up from more than twenty per cent in 2012. This adds to the decades of an historically unprecedented growth rate of 9.8 per cent per year from 1978 to 2014 since the launching of economic reform in China in 1978. These economic achievements are historic and did not come without their set of challenges and consequences.
Xi Jinping’s first task after taking over as general secretary of the CPC was to tackle corruption. In his inaugural speech as the party head in 2013, Xi said he was committed to “the fighting of tigers and flies at the same time,” referring to the corruption that had spread from the high echelons down to the grassroots level within the party and the government. He reduced official meetings by twenty-five per cent and removed 160,000 “phantom staff” from the government payroll, also stopping 2,580 “unnecessary” official building projects.
From November 2012 to April 2022, nearly 4.4 million cases involving 4.7 million officials were investigated in the fight against corruption. Party members were not immune from investigation either. In the first half of this year alone, twenty-four senior officials were investigated for corruption, and former ministers, provincial governors, and presidents of the biggest state-owned banks have been expelled from the party and given harsh sentences, including life imprisonment.
This “capitalist” behaviour from 1978 produced an increasing inequality and Xi launched a mass line campaigns to bring the party closer to the grassroots. A campaign in 2014 was to target poverty alleviation, where 800,000 party cadres were sent to survey and visit 128,000 villages. In 2020, despite the COVID-19 pandemic, extreme poverty was eradicated.
This party correction and Xi’s actions renewed the Chinese people’s confidence in the government and, according to a 2020 research paper by Harvard Kennedy School’s Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation, the overall satisfaction with the government’s performance was 93.1 per cent in 2016. There had been significant growth in the more underdeveloped regions in the countryside, together with increased social services, trust in local officials, and the campaign against poverty.
At the 20th Congress, Xi Jinping reflected on the history of colonialism and stated: “China will not tread the old path of war, colonisation, and plunder taken by some countries. That brutal and blood-stained path of enrichment at the expense of others caused great suffering for the people of developing countries. We will stand firmly on the right side of history and on the side of human progress.”
China wants to collaborate with other countries. The Belt and Road Initiative, for instance, launched in 2013 is to encourage cooperation and development and has built much-needed infrastructure with investment and construction contracts totalling $1 trillion in almost 150 countries. China is tackling the climate catastrophe by planting a quarter of the world’s new forests over the past decade. It has become a world leader in renewable energy investment and electric vehicle production. China has adopted a COVID-19 policy that prioritises lives over profit, donating 325 million doses of vaccines. The life expectancy of Chinese people has, for the first time, surpassed life expectancy in the United States.
This is the result of the long process undertaken by the government toward achieving and ensuring social development. From an early focus on growth rates, Xi Jinping has shifted the emphasis to defusing major financial risks, eradicating poverty, and controlling pollution. But first and foremost, Xi has restored Chinese dignity.