The 20th National Congress of the Communist Party of Chinacurrently underway in Beijing, is the most important political event in half a decade.
Like pre-election leaders’ debates in Western democracies, the party convention, held once every five years, provides us with valuable opportunities to learn about the country’s political leaders and their policies.
A heated political debate is unlikely to take place during the congress, as most political arrangements are done behind the scenes beforehand. However, the general secretary’s report to the party congress often sets the tone for what China’s leaders will prioritize in the years to come.
Over the weekend, President Xi Jinping delivered a speech to the congress. In more than 104 minutesXi summed up the “great achievements” of his first decade as China’s leader and coined the phrase “Chinese modernization.” He outlined his vision for China for the next five years and beyond, indicating how the country will engage with the world.
Continuity is key
Five years ago, Xi’s report to the previous party congress indicated that China would become a more assertive shaper of international orders.
Many foreign policy narratives in this year’s report are similar or identical to those in its 2017 report. This includes key phrases such as “maintaining world peace”, “promoting common development” and “working for to build a community of destiny for humanity”.
The continuity in Xi’s narratives indicates that China is unlikely to adopt rapid foreign policy changes in the foreseeable future. Retaining existing foreign policy narratives can also be a deliberate choice. After all, Xi is generally expected to secure a historic third term as China’s first ruler, his policy will therefore likely remain.
According to Xi, China “will stand firm in pursuing an independent foreign policy of peace”. Xi also promises that “China will never seek hegemony or engage in expansion.”
However, Xi stresses that China will not compromise on Taiwan issues. Following the established party line in TaiwanXi reiterated in his report that “solving the Taiwan issue is the Chinese people’s business, and it is up to the Chinese people to decide.”
Xi expressed his support for “peaceful reunification” with “the greatest sincerity and the greatest efforts”. But he also said that China “never promise to renounce the use of force.”
It would be naive to assume that the absence of new keywords in Xi’s foreign policy narratives means that China will once again become a “low-key player” on the international stage.
On the contrary, given China’s powerful economic, military and technological capabilities, the country has already become a key shaper of international orders, whether its diplomats act as “wolf warriors” or lay low.
While not directly confrontational, Xi’s report signals that China is not adhering to “rules-based international orderadvocated by the United States and its Western allies. Instead, according to Xi, China “will promote the democratization of international relations”.
One of the few notable new foreign policy phrases in Xi’s report is that China “will decide its position and policy on issues on its own merits.”
China Minister of Foreign Affairs and ministry spokesperson have frequently used this phrase to justify the country’s position of refraining from condemning Russia for its invasion of Ukraine.
The inclusion of this sentence in Xi’s report indicates that China is likely to maintain its ambiguous position on the war in Ukraine. He will not follow the West in cutting ties with Russia, nor will he explicitly support Russian military operations.
The introduction of this new sentence also gives China’s foreign policymakers more room to maneuver on complex issues in the future.
National security an essential axis
According to a Reuters account based on the yet-to-be-released full written report, which is much longer than Xi’s speech, the terms “security” and “safety” appear 89 times.
Compared to Xi’s report five years ago, the frequency of these two words has increased by more than 60%.
An entire chapter of Xi’s report is devoted to national security. The report asksa holistic approach to national securitywhich involves coordinating China’s “external and internal security”.
Its report also indicates that China will not only take care of its own security, but also work on “common security”, mainly through the “Global Security Initiativeraised by Xi in April 2022. This initiative, although still lack of detailsemphasizes that no state should pursue its own security at the expense of the security of other states.
He will likely become China’s new foreign policy framework to confront the United States Indo-Pacific Strategythan China believes “aims to contain China and attempts to make Asia-Pacific countries ‘pawns’ of US hegemony”.
Xi’s report also explicitly States China will protect the “legitimate rights and interests” of its “overseas citizens and legal persons”. Linking this to the report’s focus on securing China’s industrial and supply chains, it is expected that China will do more to extend its protection to public and private entities. beyond its physical borders.
Engage through “development”
While the country was hit hard by COVID in mid-2020, many observers speculated China would gradually cut its economic ties with the external market and seek to economically autonomous.
Xi’s report, however, reiterates that China will keep its door open. Echoing Xi’s report, Zhao Chenxin, deputy director of China’s macroeconomic management agency, the National Development and Reform Commission, said that China is not seeking to become a self-sufficient economy.
According to Xi’s report, China also intends to “create new opportunities for the world with its own development.” As China’s development-oriented international engagement continues, the Belt and Road Initiative is likely to remain an important political platform for China’s foreign relations.
Yu Tao is a lecturer in Chinese studies, The University of Western Australia
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