Communist parties everywhere gather the ranks every five years to review the past, set future direction, renew political leadership and rejig organisational structure. In countries that they rule, the quinquennial party congresses also set forth the broad policy guidance for the governments. No communist party today is as consequential as that in China. Set up nearly a hundred years ago in Shanghai with just 13 delegates, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) today runs the world’s second largest economy, racing to be the first overtaking the US. China is also second only to America in military spending and its comprehensive national power is reshaping the international relations of Asia and the world.
No big political surprises are expected at the CCP’s 19th congress in Beijing this week. It is a foregone conclusion that Xi Jinping, who was elected the general secretary at the 18th party congress in 2012, will go on for another five years. That in turn sets the stage for Xi’s second five-year term as China’s president. The real question at the 19th congress is about the depth and expanse of Xi’s political power. Over the last five years, Xi has moved decisively to consolidate his personal hold on the CCP by discarding the principle of collective leadership. His anti-corruption campaign has eliminated most of his potential political rivals. Speculation is rife that Xi might lay the basis at the congress for extending his rule beyond the two-term rule that emerged over the last three decades.
Meanwhile, in the name of consolidating the CCP’s primacy, Xi has severely restricted the room for political dissent and discourse in the party and nation. Xi has promised to make China a “moderately prosperous” nation by 2021 when it marks the 100th anniversary of CCP’s founding.
He wants China to be a “rich, democratic, harmonious and culturally advanced nation” by 2049, when the People’s Republic of China turns hundred. As he stoked Chinese nationalism to become the dominant force at home, Xi has also become assertive abroad in territorial disputes with neighbours and in claiming global leadership at a moment when America is gazing at its navel.
There should be no doubt in Delhi, which is going through a difficult phase with Beijing, that Xi is presiding over a definitive moment in modern China’s political evolution. The 19th congress of the CCP is a good moment for India to assess on the long-term strategic consequences of China’s rise and the near-term policy implications of Xi’s impressive political consolidation. There is much room for reflection on India’s imperatives for both collaboration and contestation with Xi’s China. There is none for the naive sentimentalism that has often clouded Delhi’s approach to Beijing.