China beyond its ruling party's 20th Congress

The Western media highlighted three things during the 20th Chinese Communist Party (CCP) meeting. One was the departure of former Chinese President Hu Jintao from the Great Hall of the People, the meeting venue.

Two was getting a third term for the current President Xi Jinping.

Third was the new members of the politburo, the highest decision-making body of the CPP.

I would add some party delegates wearing masks, an orderly meeting and lots of clapping. I would have loved to be there physically.

What’s going on in China? What’s beyond the congress of the communist party, held every 10 years?

One is the success of the communist party, which is more than 100 years old. Our parties seem to compete with lettuce on longevity (hope you have been following UK news).

Since the near death of Kanu, our political parties have had their half-lives reduced.

The Chinese ascribe the longevity of the party to internal renewal, with some members retiring as others take over, as happened in the recent congress.

Women are rare in the upper echelons of the communist party.

Two is the extension of Xi Jinping’s term. While that might be trumpeted outside China as a lack of democracy, it seems the issues on the table are too weighty for a new leader.

From the status of Taiwan to the war in Ukraine and the Chinese’s growing influence in the Pacific and beyond, a steady hand is needed.

The thinking seems to be China is on an upward trend and if it’s not broken, why fix it? Observers worry that by not changing when it’s expected, future change might be difficult and painful. They cite Kanu. The term extension seems to be open-ended and is buttressed in the Chinese constitution.

Three is the slowing down of the economy. War in Ukraine and Covid have conspired to interrupt the Chinese economy, which has a ripple effect on other countries. China is a market but also an exporter.

Any slowdown in Chinese manufacturing could raise prices elsewhere because of shortage. Remember the aftermath of Covid-19?

Making money

A more curious observation is that the legitimacy of the CPP is premised on Chinese citizens “making money as the communist party rules.”

That seems to be the rule since China opened up in 1978. Would an economic slowdown reverse that leading to economic frustration among the citizens? As the chart above shows, China’s economic slowdown is evident, perhaps a sign that her economy has finally reached maturity.

Remember relaxing the one-child rule? And rising wages that are sending investors to destinations with cheaper labour such as Vietnam? Add the globalisation of Chinese brands such as Huawei and Haier.

Four is why China has taken so long to relax Covid-19 rules. I rarely see Kenyans wearing masks. Despite not relaxing Covid rules, China has even come up with a coronavirus vaccine that can be swallowed.

Some speculate that as we saw in Kenya, Covid-19 gave governments lots of power. The longer it lasts “the more power the government amasses.” Remember those curfews and travel restrictions?

Five is how will China will look like after the new order precipitated by the war in Ukraine. So far China has not openly sided with any of the contestants. It is unlikely that Russia will become a superpower again even if it wins in Ukraine.

One reason is that 'superpowers' combine economic and military power. Russia has mostly military power after inheriting nuclear weapons formerly owned by the defunct Soviet Union.

China has both military and economic power. Could China pass between the west and Russia to become the next power to rival the west? The US build alliances in the heydays of the cold war with military bases across the globe.

China is doing the same but starting with economic alliances.

She is careful not to appear bellicose. Her cultural influence is on the rise going by the number of Confucius institutes. In the next ten years, China will overtake the US as the world’s leading economy. Will she take up responsibility like being the global policeman or economic locomotive?

We have heard of debt colonialism but China denies that.

It says her debt is win-win for borrowers. Curiously, the proponents of Chinese debt as the road to new colonialism themselves owe China debt.

China is also not religious meaning that her influence is likely to be economic and military.

Will that ensure a more peaceful and prosperous world? What does the Chinese Dream of great rejuvenation mean for the rest of the world? We can only wait patiently.

We can quote a few development objectives of China by 2035 as reported in Xi Jing’s report.

They include ”Join the ranks of the world’s most innovative countries, with great self-reliance and strength in science and technology."

“Build a modernised economy, form a new pattern of development - basically achieve new industrialisation, informatisation, urbanisation, and agricultural modernisation.”

“Become a leading country in education, science and technology, talent, culture, sports, and health; significantly enhance national soft power.”

One cannot resist suggesting that China is trying to emulate the West with a focus on science, technology and innovation; and more curiously, the realisation that soft ester matters as much as a military power.