China’s 20th Party Congress

By: Chak Kai Wong—Correspondent

The 20th National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party was held from October 16 to October 22 in Beijing. During the congress, a new array of Chinese political leaders were chosen, revealing an uncertain future and signaling President Xi’s ambitious outlook for China’s role on the global stage.

The Party Congress has always been the key background in Chinese politics where the leadership of the nation is chosen through clandestine conversations between Party leaders. Prior to the 2018 Constitution Amendment, the Chinese Constitution had a term limit of two terms, confining the presidency to a total of ten years. Chinese President Xi Jinping, who assumed office in 2012, is supposed to step down from the top office this party congress and leave the presidency to his hand-picked successor. Instead, not only did Xi unprecedentedly assume his third term as president, he also installed a Politburo Standing Committee with only members who are personally loyal to him. 

The most important outcome of the Party Congress is the selection for the Politburo Standing Committee, a seven-men elite political body equivalent to the Cabinet in Western democracies. The breakdown of the Standing Committee often reveals the crucial insights into the balance of power between factions within the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). This year, Xi has stacked the entire Politburo with his loyalists, removing any opposition in the meantime. “The appointments confirm even more clearly than ever that Xi Jinping’s top priority is to maximize his control of the system. He wants his men on his leadership team to lead the agencies responsible for maintaining control. He had ignored established norms when they were obstacles to his building his power,” analyzed Richard Bush, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institute.

Regarding the status of Taiwan, an important component of China’s assertive foreign policy, Xi advocated for the “peaceful reunification” of the self-ruling island. China has frequently claimed Taiwan to be its own territory, but Xi vowed to denounce the use of violence. “Xi Jinping has repeatedly said Taiwan’s future is with China and hard-liners within the regime will be pushing for a firmer stance on Taiwan as time goes on,” warned Wen-Ti Sung, a Taipei-based expert on U.S.-China-Taiwan relations.

A salient phenomenon around the selection of Politburo is the lack of any female member in its newly introduced 24 members. The government has cracked down on feminist activism and encouraged women to embrace more traditional roles in the Chinese society, and the lack of women in leadership could just be a reflection of the broader situation. “China’s Politics is traditionally regarded as a male-dominated profession, and if you look at 5,000 years of Chinese history, there was only one female empress or female emperor, and she was regarded as an anomaly.” said Yun Sun, the director of the China program at the Stimson Center, a think tank in Washington. 

During the closing ceremony of the Party Congress, Chinese former President Hu Jintao was unexpectedly escorted out of the Grand Hall of the People. Hu, who is Xi Jinping’s immediate predecessor, was led off the stage of the main auditorium by two stewards, drawing concerned looks from officials seated nearby. “The episode must be read together with the scathing criticism of the Hu era as outlined in the 20th party congress report by Mr Xi. Given how carefully choreographed the party congress is, it is no coincidence that this was allowed to be seen in front of all party delegates and the media,” said Henry Gao, a law professor from Singapore Management University.

Members of the Sharon community have also reflected on the outcome of China’s 20th Party Congress. “China’s economic achievement has shocked the world in recent years, but look at the current political situation, at what cost have these achievements come with?” commented Ms. Courtnay Malcolm, a social studies teacher at Sharon High School.

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