- Xi Jinping will get a new five-year term as general secretary of China’s Communist Party.
- During his decade in power Xi Jinping has had far-reaching influence at home and abroad.
- Since Xi came to power there have been notable changes in China from demographics to foreign policy.
Xi Jinping will upend Chinese political traditions cementing his status as one of the world’s most powerful leaders – and take on the U.S. to become the dominant superpower – when members of the country’s ruling Communist Party extend a third term as general secretary at the Party’s 20th National Congress.
The conclave kicked off Sunday and runs for about a week.
Xi, 69, ascended to China’s top job in 2012. During his decade in power, he’s had far-reaching influence at home and abroad. He has centralized power and relentlessly cracked down on dissent. He has poured billions into international infrastructure projects and aggressively pursued island construction and militarization in the South China Sea.
What is China’s Communist Party Congress, and what happens now?
- Xi is already poised to remain in power for the rest of his life after China’s lawmakers abolished the two-term limit on the presidency, a largely ceremonial title. Xi will be reconfirmed as president next March.
- About 200 top members of the party will be backed to join the policy-making Central Committee. The Central Committee, in turn, will select 25 people to join the party’s Politburo, a kind of inner circle of this executive branch. These 25 people will then determine who makes up the Politburo’s standing committee, a group of seven elite party members headed by Xi, in the general secretary role.
- Geremie Barmé, an Australian academic, once called Xi the “chairman of everything.”
- In his address opening the meeting Xi said China’s zero-COVID strategy which requires strict lockdowns and travel restrictions would not be changed. He also said China would “never promise to renounce the use of force” to “unify” Taiwan with the Chinese mainland and that “complete reunification of our country must and will be realized.”
Here are several ways China has evolved since Xi’s been in charge.
China experienced slower economic growth
When Xi became leader, China’s economy was expanding at an annual rate of 7.9%, according to World Bank data. The country’s economic growth rate got smaller every year since, until bottoming out with a 2.2% GDP increase in 2020 (largely because of the coronavirus pandemic). China’s economy grew 8.1% in 2021.
Overall, the size of China’s economy in GDP terms has doubled from about $8.5 trillion in 2012 to almost $18 trillion in 2021. The U.S. remains the world’s largest economy – but for how long?
Is China’s military powerful?
At $240 billion, China spends more on its military than any other country, with the exception of the U.S., which spent $801 billion in 2021, according to Stockholm International Peace Research Institute estimates. China opened its first overseas military base, in Djibouti, in 2017. At sea, the U.S. has 11 aircraft carriers. China has two.
‘A reckoning is near’: America has a vast military empire. Does it still need it?
American opinion on China shifted
When Xi took office during President Barack Obama’s second term, Americans’ negative views about China were elevated amid frictions over trade and China’s land reclamation efforts in the South China Sea, where it has built militarized outposts on small islands claimed by other nations.
Relations improved under President Donald Trump as he heaped praise on Xi, then deteriorated over new trade hostilities, China’s human rights record and as COVID-19 spread globally from its Chinese origins. In 2012, 40% of Americans had an unfavorable view of China, according to Pew Research, a Washington policy institute. By 2022, this figure was 82%.
Population growth in China continued to slow, now a trickle
Since 2013, a year into Xi’s mandate, China began the process of ending its one-child policy limiting population growth. Currently, families can have up to three children. A decade later it has all but flatlined, with 2021 seeing a 0.07% growth rate – revealing China’s birth rate is now too low.
The Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences forecasts that China’s population will soon start decreasing by about 1.1% each year, pushing its 1.4 billion population down to 587 million in 2100. Researchers think the lower population growth rate could mean higher labor costs, suppressing China’s economy.
China’s human rights record: limited space for dissent more limited
Human Rights Watch reported that the limited space to express dissent in China a decade ago had all but disappeared, noting that since Xi came to power “the authorities have decimated Chinese civil society, imprisoned numerous government critics, severely restricted freedom of speech, and deployed mass surveillance technology to monitor and control citizens. Authorities’ cultural persecution, arbitrary detention of a million Uyghurs and other Turkic Muslims, and other abuses since 2017 amount to crimes against humanity.”
A hacker, a researcher and thousands of photos: Inside China’s secret Uyghur detention system
Tennis star Peng Shuai is vanishing: Much like China’s #MeToo movement
China scored near the bottom – 9/100 – on Freedom House think tank’s 2022 annual tracker of political rights and civil liberties in 210 countries and territories. Only a handful of countries such as Belarus, Eritrea, North Korea and Syria scored lower.
China, from an imitator to an innovator
China thinks investing in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) graduates will help it become a preeminent technology innovator. During Xi’s reign China has taken major strides in this direction, moving from an imitator to an innovator in biotechnologies, finance, advanced computing, robotics, artificial intelligence, aerospace, cybersecurity and other high-tech areas.
Enrollment in higher education in China has ballooned from 30% of those eligible in 2012 to almost 60% in 2021, according to China’s Ministry of Education. A 2021 study by Georgetown University’s Center for Security and Emerging Technology concluded that by 2025, Chinese STEM Ph.D. graduates would outnumber their U.S. counterparts more than 3 to 1, if international students are excluded from the U.S. count.
The Biden administration’s national security strategy published on Oct. 12 declared that “outcompeting China” would be a major challenge in the coming years.
From the White House:Biden lays out national security strategy while reevaluating Saudi relations
Long-simmering Taiwan, Hong Kong tensions, simmered more
Beijing has long vowed to unite Taiwan, an independently governed island since 1949 that Beijing views as its territory, with the Chinese mainland. Xi has not strayed from this policy. In recent years Chinese fighter jets and warships have patrolled near Taiwan in an apparent reminder from Xi that Beijing is prepared to use its rapidly modernizing military, if necessary, to eventually make this happen. A decision by the Biden administration to pursue the Trump administration’s practice of letting U.S. officials mix more freely with Taiwanese officials, including a recent visit to the island by U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, sparked a strong reaction from China that involved cyberattacks, ballistic missile launches and the cancellation of several diplomatic channels.
War games:China announces new Taiwan drills as U.S. delegation visits
During Xi’s tenure, China gradually tightened its influence and control over Hong Kong, the business hub that returned to Chinese rule from Britain in 1997. Following a series of pro-democracy protests in the island-city in 2014 and again in 2019, Xi introduced a national security law that has stifled free speech and clamped down on dissent.
China versus the West
“Almost all wealthy, democratic countries – including the United States, European Union countries, Japan, and South Korea – now view China as a rival and not just an economic competitor,” wrote Johnson in a blog post on the website of the Council on Foreign Relations. “This has led countries to pursue policies to reduce reliance on China. This is a huge change from a little over a decade ago, when China was seen as a potential partner in the existing international order.”
Want to know more? Here’s what you missed
China’s 2022 Winter Olympics: Athletes force to navigate snow, ice and human rights