Theme: Discussing the 20th National Party Congress: Xi Jinping’s Political Future and Policy Implications for China

Speakers: Dr J. P. Panda and Dr. B. R. Deepak

Opening and Closing Remarks: Organisation for Research on China and Asia (ORCA)

The Organisation for Research on China and Asia (ORCA) held its first Expert Scholars’ Dialogue in New Delhi on 11th October 2022 at the India International Centre from 6:30 P.M to 8:30 P.M. The event saw a conversation-style interaction by two experts in the field of China studies: Dr. Bali Deepak and Dr. Jagannath Panda. The theme of the dialogue was “The 20th National Party Congress: Xi Jinping’s Political Future and Policy Implications for China”. The event was attended by approximately 50 people and witnessed the active participation of audience members in the form of a Q&A session. The opening remarks were delivered by ORCA’s director, Ms. Eerishika Pankaj who set the stage for an interactive and engaging conversation between Dr. Panda and Dr. Deepak. Dr. Deepak and Dr. Panda introduced the upcoming Party Congress by detailing several important developments in the build up to the quinquennial event. Dr. Deepak noted the announcement of the Presidium Standing Committee, which included several Party elders and contrary to most assessments is more significant than ceremonial. Dr. Deepak also drew attention to the meeting of Central Committee members on October 9th in which Wang Huning discussed a draft of the amendment to the Party charter. These developments were flagged as signals of what to expect from the Congress. In terms of outcomes, Dr. Deepak stated that three phrases capture the essence of the Party Congress: “people’s leader”, “people’s economy” and “great power diplomacy”. These phrases would determine the blueprint for the Party Congress and events that follow. He also argued that unbalanced and inadequate development would be the main contradiction facing the 20th Party Congress. In terms of foreign policy, Dr. Deepak maintained that the existing framework would be supported by two concepts: the community of shared future for mankind and major power relations. These ideas would continue to drive Beijing’s foreign policy with USA, EU, Russia and other regional powers.

Referencing Dr. Panda’s latest article in National Interest, titled “How Will the 20th National Congress Change China?”, Dr. Deepak requested Dr. Panda to detail the power consolidation under Xi Jinping. Dr. Panda stated that the character of the Party as an institution has changed significantly and the institutionalisation of Party processes over the last two decades has eroded gradually since 2012. Moreover, the absence of an established methodology to determine promotions and personnel changes has introduced a personalistic approach to Party processes. Citing the example of civil military relations, Dr. Panda stated that Xi Jinping has reorganised the PLA through promotions, retirements and purges, which has disrupted the harmony between the Party and military. He questioned the effectiveness of political discipline and personal loyalty to deliver harmony between institutions in the Party. Another problematic trend within the party, he noted, was the absence of a successor and the exclusion of the 1960’s generation leaders from the Politburo and above. From a foreign policy perspective, Dr. Panda pointed out that the character of the Chinese state has suffered on the international stage due to China’s reaction to COVID-19, the absence of engagement with democratic countries and lack of political reform. In terms of economic performance under Xi, Dr. Panda challenged the claim that China has eradicated absolute poverty, arguing the definition of poverty in China is not comprehensive enough.

Dr. Deepak agreed that the process of institutionalisation has been disrupted recently and the pointed out that even the age limit custom of “seven-up eight-down” was demolished based on regulations released in 2015. In terms of personnel appointments, Xi Jinping would continue to appoint allies and loyalists to key positions. Interestingly, he predicted that candidates from Fujian, Shanghai and those with connections to Xi Jinping through the Central Party School would be well represented on the 20th Central Committee. Dr. Deepak also responded to Dr. Panda’s question on the possibility of a successor to Xi Jinping. He stated that it is unlikely that there is an appointed successor and even if there was one, it wouldn’t be announced because it would risk Xi Jinping’s authority in the Party. Delivering a key insight into Xi Jinping’s thinking, Dr. Deepak argued that Xi considers princelings as more legitimate than other members of the Party. The red character of princelings entitled them to understand the needs of the people and better positioned them to lead China than Party members like Wen Jiabao, Zhu Rongji and others without a blood relationship with revolutionary leaders.

Dr. Deepak also discussed the possibility of coups in China. He highlighted the importance of financial coups, which he argued was the most valid aspect of opposition to Xi. The financial nerve centers of China like Shanghai and Shenzhen are controlled by rival factions and Xi’s competitors. Xi has attempted to wrest control of these financial centers and reduce the influence of princelings, party elders and rival factions. Turning to the question of China’s outreach to the world, Dr. Deepak requested Dr. Panda to detail how China’s competitive advantage was being eroded.

Dr. Panda pointed out that China’s attraction has been its economic model, which has diminished in appeal due to a culture of political control. Excessive control over economic policy exercised by the Party, purges of businessmen like Xiao Jianhua and crackdown on foreign and private business has suffocated the competitive environment in China. China’s economic opening up and its overseas ventures developed during Hu Jintao’s tenure is seeing a reversal due to Beijing’s focus on political discipline and domestic self-sufficiency. Interestingly, Dr. Panda pointed out that the BRI initiative was actually started by Hu Jintao in the form of Going Out policies and other overseas expansion initiatives. Dr. Panda noted that the BRI has seen both successes and failures, and will continue under Xi who will introduce new schemes and initiatives to revitalise the initiative. Although the BRI has displaced regional powers in the developing South, the lack of transparency and financial externalities associated with Chinese loans has dented its attractiveness and competitive advantage. Dr. Deepak added to Dr. Panda’s comments on China’s diminishing competitive advantage by mentioning the state of China’s semiconductor industry, which has seen thousands of firms go bust despite enormous state support.

The discussion was followed by a question-and-answer session that invited questions from the audience for Dr. Panda and Dr. Deepak. Both speakers answered questions on Party politics, Beijing’s foreign policy and implications of the Party Congress for India. The closing remarks were presented by Rahul Karan, Research Associate at ORCA, who summarised the discussion and outlined the way forward for future research on the Party Congress and elite politics in China.