China’s third new era under Xi Jinping

-by CCAS-KAS India

The Centre for China Analysis and Strategy (CCAS) and the India Office of the Konrad Adenauer Stiftung (KAS) organized an event on "China’s Third New Era Under Xi Jinping" on Thursday, 31 March 2022, 7:00 pm (IST) in New Delhi. Essentially the event sought to ascertain how Xi Jinping tightening his grip on members of the Politburo and the higher echelons of the Party has impacted the internal working of China. It also explored China’s attitude and posture towards India, which have undergone definite change since Xi Jinping adopted an aggressive foreign policy to achieve the 'rejuvenation of the Chinese nation'. This included the ongoing incursions along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in Ladakh since May 2020 along with an emphasis on China’s perception battle.

Key Takeaways

In October-November 2012, when Xi Jinping was appointed the General Secretary of the Chinese Communist Party Central Committee, the Chairman of the Central Military Commission, and the President of China i.e. all three posts were given after a gap of thirty years at the same time.

  • This resulted because of a political turmoil in China, when another princeling, Bo Xilai, made a bid for the top posts and wanted to oust Xi Jinping. Bo Xilai lost and Xi Jinping made it, but his case highlighted the laxity that has crept into China’s domestic security apparatus and the disregard that members of the CCP nomenklatura had for party discipline and regulations concerning contact with foreigners. The Party was shaken and at the 18th Party Congress where Xi Jinping came in, he was given a lot of power to clean the Party from within.
  • Xi Jinping’s mantra “the party, government, military, civilian and academic, east, west, south, north and centre, the party leads everything” spelt out his ambitions very clearly. This had not happened for a very long time, at least since Mao’s time, but the world was slow in reading Xi Jinping’s message.
  • At the 18th party Congress, Xi Jinping also exposed the idea of the China dream. China Dream, to be achieved by 2021 includes: making the Chinese people prosperous – or abolition of poverty; making the Chinese nation wealthy; and “the rejuvenation of the great Chinese nation”. The last promise includes the “recovery of sovereignty over Chinese territory lost through the imposition of unequal treaties by hostile foreign powers”
  • At the 19th Party Congress in October 2017, Xi Jinping spelt out all the components of the China Dream and gave the target dates for achieving each. The dates are important. 2021, for example, is the centenary year of the CCP and 2049 is the hundredth year of the founding of the People’s Republic of China (PRC).
  • The Central Committee of the Communist Party of China has set out to usher in a new era for China with its third revision of history, by elevating Xi Jinping to the level of, or arguably even above, his famous predecessors.
  • China’s third new era coincides with what the German Chair of the Munich Security Conference, Mr. Ischinger, referred to as “a new and dangerous era” that has emerged globally. An era of open conflict over which system should prevail, our current international system based on the values of freedom of expression, democracy and the rule of law, or an authoritarian system where the law of military might prevail in the international arena.
  • As China’s global influence grows in tandem with its economy, the United Front Work Department (UFWD) is now being pressed into the service of the Party’s external operations. People in India might think that this is limited to countries with significant overseas Chinese populations. Yet there is sufficient reason to believe that the surge of outreach efforts that are orchestrated by the UFWD is influencing operations to promote the CPC’s political goals even in countries that do not have significant numbers of ethnic Chinese citizens.
  • As far as the Third new era is concerned, a central authoritarian figure is back at the centre of everything in China and this has led to a shifting of both domestic and foreign policies. Between 2012 and 2022, all authority has been arrogated by President Xi Jinping, who is now the chairman of all the major commissions and the head of all the Party's central leading groups. The third term of President Xi is a foregone conclusion because he is not only in complete command of the Party, but he has also amended the State Constitution to allow him to serve as president for a third and potentially even a fourth term.
  • It has to however be added that China's ambitions for its third new era are confronted with a range of serious obstacles. While Western economies are recovering from the Covid-19 crisis, China's economy - which emerged faster than the US and Europe from the first Covid wave in 2020 - is now slowing down. Beijing needs to be able to increase domestic consumption to drive growth, but it is not easy to do so at current income levels, especially in the absence of a welfare system. GDP growth is slowing and the bursting of the real estate bubble, as the “Evergrande debt crisis” shows, is complicating matters. In this climate, and until domestic consumption picks up again, exports remain irreplaceable as a lever of growth. But in a context of much less favourable international relations than in the past, they too will be difficult to leverage.
  • In Ukraine, China initially supported Russia’s aggressiveness thinking it could reap the benefits without sharing the risk. But now, China finds itself embroiled in a situation that could harm its interest. The unprecedented sanctions that have been put in place by Europe and the U.S. may seriously affect both China’s economic interests through either direct or secondary sanctions. Thus, in China’s Third New Era, due to Xi Jinping’s ignorance, China has already wasted the political goodwill and capital it had in Europe.
  • China's third new era has only just begun, but is already characterised by a foreign policy of assertiveness and aggressiveness second to none. Gone is the era where China wanted to “keep a low profile and bide its time.”
  • All this, however, does not, of course, mean that China’s rise is over and that we are collectively going back to the status quo ante, the war in Ukraine is far from over, and where it will ultimately turn is still undetermined. Nevertheless, what is certain is that China will now have to face much more serious challenges, which may threaten also its domestic economic progress.

To continue reading the whole outcome report kindly refer to the attached pdf on the same webpage.