BEIJING — Here are some initial reactions to President Xi Jinping’s speech on Sunday opening the 20th congress of China’s ruling Communist Party, a week-long event where he is widely expected to win a third leadership term and cement his place as the country’s most powerful ruler since Mao Zedong.
JOHN DELURY, PROFESSOR OF CHINESE STUDIES, YONSEI UNIVERSITY GRADUATE SCHOOL OF INTERNATIONAL STUDIES, SEOUL
“While Xi’s tone was unapologetic, the speech came across as less expansive than five years ago (and thankfully much shorter). Instead of confidently entering his guaranteed second term, Xi at this Congress is entering uncharted waters of a paramount rule with no set time limit.
“Given the economic and social strain caused by sticking to an increasingly unpopular COVID zero policy, Xi’s speech might sound defensive to many Chinese citizens, insisting that the Party has their best interests in mind. The central concept of the speech seemed to be ‘security’, a word Xi used in myriad ways to justify not only his approach to foreign policy, but also the economy and public health.
“Mao Zedong promised to make people revolutionaries. Deng Xiaoping promised to make them rich. Xi is promising to keep them safe.”
ALFRED WU, ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR, LEE KUAN YEW SCHOOL OF PUBLIC POLICY, NATIONAL UNIVERSITY OF SINGAPORE
“It is obvious that security is Xi’s greatest concern. His narrative is – China faces many dangers, the country is in a war-like state, figuratively, and he is the savior. With this narrative, he can get people to unite around him.
“In the past, Chinese leaders based their legitimacy on their ability to provide economic growth. Now with the economy slowing, Xi tries to shift the basis of legitimacy from economic growth to security – that he can be the one who saves and protects China.”
ZHIWU CHEN, PROFESSOR OF FINANCE, UNIVERSITY OF HONG KONG
“One significant change is to de-emphasize economic development and economic reform.
“From the 14th to the 19th Party Congress, economic development was, each time, explicitly stated as the central mission for the Party, whereas this time there is no such mention; instead, the emphasis is on ‘complete’ and ‘all-rounded’ development. That is, it is not just economic development but also political, social, environmental, and cultural development that the Party will devote efforts to.”
BATES GILL, PROFESSOR, DEPARTMENT OF SECURITY STUDIES AND CRIMINOLOGY, MACQUARIE UNIVERSITY, SYDNEY
“This speech said ‘continuity’ and full speed ahead. Seemed to be very little indication of adjustment to policy, even though the domestic economy and international relationships face increasing headwinds.
“But this was not intended as a policy speech. This was about lauding past accomplishments, exuding confidence in the Party and its chosen path, and exhorting its membership to press forward even harder. It was about extolling the Party and, by definition, his leadership, as he breaks recent precedent and looks to stay in power indefinitely.”
CHARLES PARTON, FELLOW, COUNCIL OF GEOSTRATEGY, LONDON
“This year’s report is shorter and is very general, with no specifics in terms of policy. That would come later … Innovation and education have always been at the top of Xi Jinping’s mind, but the emphasis seems to be even greater in this report. Particularly in light of the United States’ measures to limit science and technology cooperation with China, it has become a lot more important for China to produce its own science and technology.”
SCOTT KENNEDY, SENIOR ADVISER AND TRUSTEE CHAIR IN CHINESE BUSINESS AND ECONOMICS, CENTER FOR STRATEGIC AND INTERNATIONAL STUDIES, WASHINGTON
“Xi gave an unapologetic defense of the Chinese Communist Party’s current approach to everything, domestic and international … The most significant theme was his emphasis on developing a unique ‘Chinese style’ to many elements of public affairs, from modernization to diplomacy to socialism.
“Xi wants the CCP, China and the international system to go in a very different direction than that laid out by the United States and the West over the last century.”
JA IAN CHONG, ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR OF POLITICAL SCIENCE, NATIONAL UNIVERSITY OF SINGAPORE
“I think the fact that nothing really new stood out is also remarkable in the sense that it fits with this idea that while there is this unstable and dangerous world outside that Xi talks about, he wants to portray China and his leadership as one that is stable.
“I did notice the uptake in the discussion of security, which is not surprising because on several fronts, China has much more to be concerned about today than five years ago.
“First, the competition with the U.S. has got more intense, then there is the uncertainty surrounding the war in Ukraine and Xi’s support for Putin. The world today looks more contentious than the world five years ago, with COVID, too, there are issues with supply chains that dovetail with U.S. efforts to limit Chinese access to technology so on the security side China has a lot more to worry about today than five years ago.” (Reporting by Martin Quin Pollard, Eduardo Baptista, Kevin Yao and Yew Lun Tian in Beijing, Ben Blanchard in Taipei, Xie Yu in Hong Kong; Editing by Tom Hogue)