New Era Recap: Authoritarian Leadership Takes Centre Stage

China, Opinion

As Xi Jinping Lauds the New Era, Authoritarian Leadership Takes Centre Stage

During the Chinese Communist Party’s 19th National Congress held from October 18 to 24, the power of Chinese president and general secretary Xi Jinping was further consolidated. The five-yearly congress assembled some 2,300 delegates to discuss the country’s policy priorities and select the top leadership until 2022.

When all delegates raised their hands during the closing day, Xi Jinping’s eponymous political thought was voted in the party’s charter by a unanimous vote.

The reference to Xi’s name puts the contemporary Chinese leader on par with former leaders Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping.

The dream of a strong nation

During his three-and-a-half hour opening address on October 18, Xi stated that Chinese society today is faced with a new principal contradiction between decades of uneven and inadequate growth, and the people’s desire for a better livelihood.

To solve this socio-economic dispute, Xi reaffirmed that the Chinese economy will be transformed from a high-speed to a high-quality growth model. Hereby, Xi affirmed that Chinese socialism has entered a new era.

After coming to power in 2012, Xi Jinping was quick to assert the party’s dominance over the state, the economy, and the military.

The goal of China’s Great Rejuvenation is captured in Xi Jinping’s much-discussed China Dream policy. As part of this dream, Xi has been pursuing a nation-wide campaign against corruption and the promotion of structural reforms of the economy.

However, many socio-economic questions remain, as China’s rapid growth has led to widespread inequality and environmental damage. This is clearly a sensitive time for the Chinese leadership, especially since the growth of the economy is slowing down.

A Transforming Economy

The two development goals that Xi Jinping defined, is for China to become a relatively well-off society between 2021-2035 and a modern socialist nation by 2050, the hundredth anniversary of the People’s Republic of China.

Xi’s goals have been crystallised into the Xi Jinping Thought of Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for the New Era. Here, Xi redefined the original slogan coined by Deng Xiaoping, the man who reformed and opened up China in 1978.

This new dogma is crucial for the party’s future rule over the country, as its legitimacy hinges on it. It is clear that further economic reforms will touch upon the political interests of the party. As the Chinese economy moves up the value chain, a fine balance will have to be struck between political and economic interests.

The 19th Party Congress also sees the rise of Li Zhanshu, Wang Yang, Wang Huning, Han Zheng and Zhao Leji to the Standing Committee. Wang Yang’s liberal policies during his tenure in the southern province Guangdong, gave rise to the Guangdong Model of reform. Combined with the elevation of Wang Huning, the party’s new top echelon may be a tell-tale sign for the future.

Having been the party’s ideological theorist for decades, Wang Huning has written extensively about the effects of economic liberalisation on the authority of the central leadership. His neo-authoritarian view sees centralised leadership as conducive for economic modernisation.

As Xi Jinping has taken the reins of almost all areas of governance, the Chinese president has amassed a large amount of power. Very illustrating is the heavy emphasis that is put on the party’s leadership over all aspects of the Chinese society, which featured several times throughout the speech.

Therefore, Xi’s political behaviour during his second term will be crucial, as the concentration of power in the Party centre shows. We can expect the Chinese economy to be reformed incrementally, with the party staying firmly in control. For China, this may not be a contradictory endeavour.

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