The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) will be holding one of its most important meetings from October 26-29 to lay out the five-year plan amidst an international crisis, a military confrontation with India, the Covid-19 pandemic which refuses to go, and a mounting challenge to Leader for Life Xi Jinping.
Build a moderately prosperous China
Interestingly, while the main agenda of the fifth plenary session of the CCP will be to unveil the five-year plan for 2021-2025, this is to lay the ground work for the country to achieve its national economic and social development goal for 2035. Dr Jagannath P. Panda, research fellow, Manohar Parrikar Institute for Defence Studies and Analysis (MPIDSA), says: “The five-year plan will comprehensively aim to build on Xi’s goal of transforming China into a xiaokang shehui—or a ‘moderately prosperous society’ which has taken a massive hit due to the spread of Covid-19.”
He adds that the coronavirus crisis has created worrisome consequences for the CCP as the socio-economic conditions of China’s the migrant workers—already a vulnerable class—have worsened. These are expected to widen the urban-rural divide severely. The all-important CCP meeting will tackle the severe economic problems unleashed by the coronavirus which spread from Wuhan.
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Sorting out leadership crisis for Xi
At another level, it is important to note that China’s economic growth and its political stability are a personal necessity for Xi’s legitimacy as Leader for Life. The economic crisis due to Covid-19 and suppression of dissidence within the party has triggered a weakening of Xi’s leadership.
Panda says: “The recent purging of a vocal internal critic—Ren Zhiqiang, an influential tycoon and veteran CCP member—underlines Xi’s leadership insecurities. What is also important to note is that Ren is not the only insider who has been criticizing Xi’s leadership.”
The session would also seek to, besides putting Chinese economy on the rails, portray a tough persona of Xi and strength of the party to the Chinese people. Panda feels that with international criticism and internal protests over Xi’s functioning, the meeting would be a test for Xi to reassert not just his power, but also the authority of the regime amidst the people of China and importantly among the global community.
Resolving the Economic crisis
Panda says that China’s economy expanded to 4.9 per cent in the third quarter this year, its GDP being ahead of the 3.2 per cent increase in the second quarter and the industrial production leaping to 6.9 per cent—the highest level this year and commensurate with the pre-Covid growth levels. Giving an interesting insight into China’s far-reaching vision and leadership, Panda says: “China would need greater economic advancements to attain its centenary goals—the targets it wants to achieve in 2049, the 100 years of the founding of the People’s Republic of China.”
What has also dented Chinese image is Xi’s pet project—the ambitious Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) which has witnessed serious setbacks in many countries. The BRI had a major role in enhancing Xi’s political goals and solidifying China’s global governance model. However, the initiative has been impacted as Covid-19 hurt the economies of the participant countries, leading many to either seek deferment of loans or outright cancellation of debt.
Setbacks on the Indian border and the global sphere
The timing of the CCP plenary is significant as it is being held amidst deepening political tensions with India where Xi has been put in an embarrassing position by India. The PLA’s incursion in Ladakh, where it reportedly lost many PLA soldiers, has affected the domestic clout enjoyed by Xi and the CCP. India’s retaliatory posture on the border has also put Beijing’s international stature in a complicated state which has impacted the confidence CCP comrades held for Xi.
“It is not just the Ladakh standoff which has precipitated Xi’s political and diplomatic graph. The CCP’s passing of the controversial National Security Law amidst the coronavirus health crisis, inviting massive opposition from the people of Hong Kong, as well as the global community; Beijing’s increasingly unilateral and assertive military postures in the East and the South China Sea; the intensifying trade war with the US—these are posing significant challenges to Xi’s leadership,” says Panda.
The all-significant CCP meeting comes at a time when strongman Xi has failed to instill faith for himself within the party. Panda says: “Even if Xi does not lose his leadership anytime soon, these myriad crises underscore the urgency for Xi to reinstate his authority with the fifth plenary session of the 19th Central Committee of the CCP by chalking out a course of action that would help him enhance his legitimacy.”