Monday 11 November 2019

Crunch meeting on China's future

Communist Party conclave comes amid trade wars and unrest in Hong Kong

Key date: The event is important for Chinese President Xi Jinping. Photo: Reuters/Florence Lo
Key date: The event is important for Chinese President Xi Jinping. Photo: Reuters/Florence Lo

Ben Blanchard

China's Communist Party leaders will on Monday start their most important meeting this year, with President Xi Jinping expected to champion the Chinese model of governance while fighting protracted economic and political crises at home and abroad.

The four-day conclave comes at a critical time, as Hong Kong grapples with anti- government protests for the fourth month, drawing Western criticism of Beijing for trampling on the rights and liberties of Hong Kong people in its handling of the violent demonstrations.

China's economy is also growing at its slowest pace in nearly three decades, hurt in part by a prolonged trade war with the United States. Stable growth has been fundamental to the party's political legitimacy.

It is key for Beijing to use the occasion to cast the Chinese political system as meritocratic, unchallengeable and superior to Western democracy, said Wang Jiangyu, director of the Asian Law Institute at the National University of Singapore.

Party leaders have repeatedly warned that without Communist rule, China would descend into chaos and fall prey to hostile Western powers.

In September, Mr Xi said China was entering a period of "concentrated risks" - economic, political and diplomatic - and the country must be ready to fight.

"China's party-state wants to show that its political system is more attractive overseas, and others should stop their finger-pointing," Mr Wang said.

Plenums, as such Communist Party meetings are formally called, are generally held every autumn. It is a closed-door meeting of the party's Central Committee, which comprises about 370 people and is the largest of its elite bodies that rule China.

Policy insiders say the trade war, China's slowing economy and Hong Kong will be discussed, even if there is no direct mention of them in the final communique, released by state news agency Xinhua.

Two officials who reviewed the draft of the communique said the document was largely political and focused on ideological innovation.

Still, any ideological change may hint of new economic trajectories, because "ideology in China is never just about grand designs", said Chucheng Feng, co-founder of GRisk, a political risk analytics firm.

China's GDP grew 6pc in the third quarter. But US President Donald Trump said this week growth was "probably minus-something".

Chinese leaders are expected to chart the course for the economy in 2020 at a key meeting in December.

So far, China has shown no overt sign of changing or slowing its economic reforms. It has embarked on a long-term upgrade of its industries and modernisation of its technological capabilities while moving away from low-end and polluting manufacturing.

But to appease US demands, Beijing has pledged to open its markets and roll out some relatively pain-free reforms such as new rules next year meant to make it easier for companies to do business in China.

The party will also look ahead to the next congress in 2022 at this plenum.

How exactly Mr Xi's continuation of power will be handled after presidential term limits were removed last year will be the "elephant in the room" at the plenum, one senior Western diplomat said on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter.

"It's unclear exactly what will happen in 2022," the diplomat said.

Irish Independent

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