The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) on October 29 wrapped up the fifth plenary session of the 19th Central Committee in Beijing. The gathering of the top Chinese leaders in one of the most important event in the CCP’s political calendar laid out the five-year plan for the year 2021 to 2025. Although a summary communique was issued at the end of the meeting, the main agenda with the full text of the five-year plan will not unveiled until the next session of the National People’s Congress in March. However, the meeting provided crucial insights into the status of Xi Jinping’s leadership, the socio-economic status of China during and after the pandemic, the current hostile international environment under the rising trade dispute with the U.S. and most importantly, a foray into the prospects of China’s plan for the future.
The session not only assessed the previous 13th Five-Year Plan (2016-2020), it also adopted the Central Committee’s proposals for the formulation of the 14th Five-Year Plan (2021-2025) for National Economic and Social Development and the Long-Range Objectives Through the Year 2035. The session was attended by 198 regular members and 166 alternate members of the CPC Central Committee, the members of the Standing Committee, senior officials and 19th CPC National Congress’s delegates. The plenum declared that China has reached its goal in becoming a “moderately prosperous society” in 2020 by lifting more than 55 million people out of poverty, created 60 million new jobs in five years and expected to surpass the 100 trillion yuan ($14.9 trillion) mark in 2020. Amidst its achievements, Beijing also admitted the growing inequality between rural and urban residents which it intends to address along with many other issues in the next five years.
The socio-economic status of China, which envisages a growing economy, and political stability of the country is a necessity for Xi Jinping to strengthen his political base and assert his influence. He presided over the fifth plenary session and was hailed as the “core navigator” of the present leadership. Observers believe that such kind of invocation has not appeared since the death of Mao, which therefore evidently affirms that Xi Jinping’s power has reached new heights and that his leadership will effectively remain unchallenged in the foreseeable future.
Furthermore, the plenary session discussed the long-range objectives for China to achieve “socialist modernization” by 2035. In fact, the 14th Five year plan emphasized that the country will focus on improving quality and raising productivity and further increase innovation capacity, thereby building a high-standard market system to improve its socialist market economy. China’s distinct emphasis on strengthening domestic market and shifting economic reliance from labor-intensive industry and tourism to technological advancement and industrial upgrade are indispensable in achieving the goals set for the future. Amidst such plans for comprehensive economic restructuring, Beijing also places environmental issues on its agenda claiming that China’s quality growth include green and low-carbon development. In order to tackle global climate change, China sets its target to reach CO2 emissions peak before 2030 and achieve carbon neutrality before 2060. These measures are considered important by Beijing in order for the world to consider China as a ‘leading country’ in terms of global green economy and a popular stakeholder.
It is also important to note that the CCP plenary session was held amidst global outcry against the spread of Corona virus. The pandemic brought China’s belligerence into the limelight with its political tensions with India, territorial dispute in the South China Sea, rising trade war with the U.S. and uncertain international environment resulting in a challenging situation for Xi Jinping and his leadership.
Moreover, the domestic issues in China from passing of the controversial National Security Law while suppressing the protests in Hong Kong and increasing human rights violations in Xinjiang and Tibet received heavy international criticism and concerns from various global bodies. The internal criticism from a CCP member, a business tycoon, Ren Zhiqiang who was later put behind bar for corruption and embezzlement case indicates that Xi Jinping’s leadership is faced with both internal and external challenges. Observers believe that the fifth plenary session was held under urgency for Xi to reinstate his authority, demonstrate his resilience and enhance his legitimacy.
It remains to be seen whether Xi Jinping will continue to pursue an increasingly aggressive approach externally and repressive administration internally. China’s belligerence towards strengthening Xi’s political base can either result in adverse effects for his long term rule over China or it may further strengthen his political control as he moves towards occupying a position in the Party once held by Mao Zedong and perhaps surpassing it altogether.
*Tenzin Lhadon is a fellow of Tibet Policy Institute and a Ph.D scholar from Jawaharlal Nehru University, Delhi. Views expressed here do not necessarily reflects those of the Tibet Policy Institute.