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CPC Congress | Party wants Chinese to strive for global hegemony

Expect more rhetoric that confirms a sense of Chinese exceptionalism, and plays up the CPC’s leadership role in guiding China towards its supposed destiny at the top of the global power hierarchy

October 15, 2022 / 07:00 AM IST
(Representative Image/FILE)

(Representative Image/FILE)

The seventh plenum of the 19th Central Committee of the Communist Party of China (CPC) ended on October 12. Coming as it did just a few short days before the party’s 20th congress that begins on October 16, it offers a window into what to expect at the congress itself.

While the plenum communique discusses several things, this article looks at how it opened by “unanimously agree[ing]” that over the past year, the politburo had faced “a complicated and grave international situation and the challenging and arduous tasks of reform, development and ensuring stability at home”. What is noteworthy here is the explicit link drawn between China’s external affairs and its internal issues. It is a link with implications for not just China’s citizenry, but also the world at large.

Such links are not particularly new in party documents, but the path that China has followed over the past decade and more, of an increasingly assertive global presence, gives the statement added weight. It suggests that China’s citizens are being asked to get used to their country’s domestic policies and their lives being impacted ever more greatly by the outside world.

For the CPC, this approach is driven by the logic of ensuring its survival, and legitimacy.

China has grown economically prosperous but the party perceives from time to time, a continuing challenge to regime security from the spread of liberal ideas in Chinese society, supposedly encouraged by the West, and from ethnic assertion in regions such as Tibet, and Xinjiang. Further, in the party’s worldview, despite possessing economic capacity, it has not also grown commensurately in political influence abroad. The solution for the party elite has been to adopt the unsurprising path of connecting these internal problems or shortcomings to external causes as a way of deflecting responsibility.

Thus, to say that the past five years “was an unusual and extraordinary period” is a way of covering up failures of governance, and policy that have led to both China’s current economic downturn, and the aggravations of zero-Covid. By shaping news of the outside world to fit into a binary ‘us versus them’ framework, General Secretary Xi Jinping has given an already strong nationalist sentiment in China more wings.

This process then develops a logic of its own. Bilateral problems with the United States or with other challengers such as India become intractable because there is always the sense of the equation being zero-sum. The slow pace of China’s disengagement at the LAC, and its insistence for some time now that the “the border situation is now switching to normalized management and control” reflect this logic, or pressure.

For now, though, the party seems to believe it can contain, and direct popular sentiment on foreign policy issues. Events outside of its borders also offer the party an opportunity to highlight its own “efforts”. This has included “properly respond[ing] to the risks and challenges brought about by the Ukraine crisis” as well as “maintain[ing] a stable and healthy economic environment, a secure and peaceful society”.

At the same time, Chinese leaders — Xi, perhaps, more than any — also see an upward trend in national power and status, or at least the perception of it, as having positive implications for party survival, and legitimacy. The party has, therefore, striven to socialise the Chinese population into thinking not just of their day-to-day lives within China, but also of their roles and contributions to making their country stronger vis-à-vis the rest of the world. Through propaganda and false historical narratives, it has painted a picture not only of China’s rise as being inevitable and natural, but also more importantly that it is only the CPC as a ruling party that can lead this process.

In other words, the party wants the Chinese to think of and strive for global hegemony so that it can continue to survive in power.

The danger for the rest of the world is that such rhetoric, and striving is accompanied also by an increasingly thin skin, an incapacity to accept setbacks, and ever shortening deadlines — think of China’s ‘wolf warrior’ diplomacy, its willingness to ignore its international treaty obligations, or the setting aside of the 2047 timetable for Hong Kong’s full absorption into the Chinese political system. Xi appears to be a man in a hurry, and willing to drive the party and the people hard to strengthen the party in power.

By effectively abandoning the Deng Xiaoping maxim of ‘hide your capabilities, bide your time’ in Chinese foreign policy, Xi has also pushed ordinary Chinese to confront the world, to look beyond considerations of seeking a good life for themselves as they have done in the past four decades since the launch of economic reforms and opening up.

At the 20th Party Congress, expect more rhetoric that confirms a sense of Chinese exceptionalism, and plays up the CPC’s leadership role in guiding the country towards its supposed destiny at the top of the global power hierarchy.

Jabin T Jacob is Associate Professor at the Department of International Relations and Governance Studies, Shiv Nadar Institution of Eminence and Adjunct Research Fellow at the National Maritime Foundation. Twitter: @jabinjacobt. Views are personal, and do not represent the stand of this publication.

Jabin T Jacob is Associate Professor, Department of International Relations and Governance Studies, Shiv Nadar University, Delhi-NCR. Twitter: @jabinjacobt.
first published: Oct 15, 2022 07:00 am