The Dawn of a “New Era”

When Xi Jinping first became the leader of the Party, president of the country, and head of the Chinese military five years ago, he characterized China’s relationship with the world as the country’s “catch up and overtake phase.” At the 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China (NCCPC — the Congress) in late October of 2017, Xi made it clear that he believes that China has now reached the “overtake phase.”

In his three-and-a-half-hour political report to the Party’s 2,300 top officials, Xi laid out a vision for China to lead the world in everything from science and technology, to modern weaponry and military might, to providing a model of economic development and governance for other countries to follow.

Xi also indicated that he plans to personally lead this effort for many years, perhaps much longer than the traditional 10-year term allocated to a leader since Deng Xiaoping. The most enduring hallmark of the 19th Congress is the addition of this sentence to the Party constitution: “Xi Jinping thought on socialism with Chinese characteristics for a new era.” 

This puts Xi on equal footing with Party founder Mao Zedong and allows him to take the Party in new directions in this “new era” that is unshackled from any mistakes and limitations of the past.

Ambitious Agenda That Spans the Next Few Decades

The agenda laid out at the Party Congress is extremely ambitious and it carries many uncertainties despite the resolute certainty on display at the Congress. 

Xi has promised to raise incomes, win the battle against poverty, clean up the environment, clean up the food supply, clean up corruption and improve government inefficiency while promoting “the creative evolution of traditional Chinese culture.” He has pledged to build a “beautiful China” with quality schools, world-class universities, modern hospitals and high-quality health care. He said he will “foster a political ecosystem featuring honesty and integrity” while creating a society that is “full of vitality, harmonious and orderly.” 

This all tops off with the “two centenary anniversaries” of the 100th anniversary of the Party in 2021 when China will be “moderately prosperous,” and the 100th anniversary of the People’s Republic in 2049 when China will have “common prosperity for everyone” and will be a “global leader in terms of national strength and international influence.” 

Xi in his work report did not specify economic growth targets, which could be viewed as an acknowledgment that his earlier promise to double the 2010 per-capita income level by 2020 has resulted in increasingly dangerous levels of debt pumped into China’s highly leveraged economy. The big question that remains is what Xi plans to do with the Party’s market-oriented economic reform agenda that has been mostly stillborn since it was laid out in the Party’s third plenum in 2013. 

While the Party Congress rhetoric once again declared that “the market will have a decisive role,” making state-owned enterprise “stronger, bigger and better” appears to be Xi’s top priority. In the past couple of years, Xi has been pushing Party cells into foreign and private enterprises as well as strengthening Party decision making power in state-enterprises. For example, the largest state-owned enterprises listed on the Hong Kong market changed their articles of association in the past year to indicate that the Party, not the state, is to play the key role in company management. 

The emphasis in Xi’s work report, as well as the language, added to the Party constitution make it clear that China is focused on technological dominance that will enable Chinese companies to lead the world in all the important technologies of the future. Xi’s signature policy of “Made in China 2025” was highlighted at the Congress as providing the blueprint for this buildup of China’s national strength and industrial prowess.

The Message

The overarching message and the prevailing attitude at the Party Congress is that China is a country that is confident about where it sits in the world and where it is headed. As this “new era” unfolds, government and enterprises around the world must keep a close watch on the opportunities and obstacles that will emerge. The Party mouthpiece Xinhua News Service summed up the Party’s view of China’s current situation by saying that “China has stood up, grown rich and become strong” and that “it is time to understand China’s path because it appears that it will continue to triumph.”

Read our comprehensive analysis (below or download a PDF) of what's next for China in the below report, and read Jim McGregor's profile of Xi Jinping and his heightened role as party leader and head of state.

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James McGregor

James McGregor is chairman of APCO Worldwide's greater China region and author of two highly regarded books. Read More

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Gary Li

Gary Li is an associate director specializing in Chinese public policy based in APCO Worldwide's Beijing office. Read More