On Thursday November 16, the 18th Congress of the Communist Party of China (CPC) ended in Beijing with the election of a new team of party leaders, including especially the new Politburo Standing Committee which replaces the current one headed by Chinese President Hu Jintao. The new Committee will have fewer members, 7 instead of the current 9.
The Congress was a monumental affair involving 2,217 delegates from all regions of the People’s Republic of China. Its discussions ranged over all areas of economic, social, cultural and international policy for the world’s largest nation (1.35 billion people). Both the Chinese people, who are very aware that what is decided in the Party’s conclaves closely determines the policies to be followed by the government, and outsiders observed the proceedings closely.
The foreign press and media, including the corporate controlled media in the United States and Europe, gave excessive attention to various internal controversies and scandals, real and doubtful, and in doing so created more heat than light. It is natural, however, that outside of China there was a lot of speculation as to what new trade and foreign relations initiatives might arise from the Congress.
Various sources in China suggest a certain amount of bored irritation with the “China bashing” that has now become part of the routine of U.S. presidential elections.
The new Secretary General, Xi Jinping, who is the country’s current vice president and who will become the new president next year, spoke briefly to the Congress on Thursday. His speech, like others in the Congress, stressed an approach that will strive to improve the material life of the Chinese people.
Xi and other speakers at the Congress also stressed the importance of fighting corruption. After the death of Mao Zedong in 1976, the Chinese state opened up more opportunities for private enterprise and the accumulation of wealth by private individuals. This has led to corruption complaints and also more labor strife. At the same time, China has become vastly wealthier and now plays a giant role on the world stage. Many countries see trade with and development aid from China as a way of getting out from under hegemonic economic control of the United States and the former colonial powers of Western Europe. China is the largest country in the world by population, and as such is the largest member of the BRICS group of nations which are seen as a counterpoise to the United States and the West (the others are Brazil, Russia, India and South Africa).
In his brief acceptance speech on Thursday, the new Secretary General, Xi Jinping, spoke very briefly and simply: “To fulfill our responsibility, we will rally the whole Party and the people of all ethnic groups in China in making continued efforts to free up our minds, carry out reform and opening up, further release and develop the productive forces, work hard to resolve the difficulties the people face in both work and life, and unwaveringly pursue common prosperity.” He also stressed the need to overcome corruption, to bring the Party into a closer relationship with the people, and to combat formalistic, bureaucratic approaches.
The new approach is seen by some as aiming to expand the internal markets of China by increasing the basic living standards of the people. China has reached its current level of prosperity by emphasizing, among other things, international trade and exports, and is currently suffering from something of a slowdown because the international financial crisis and the impoverishment of many people in Europe has cut into Chinese exports. However, China plans to continue expanding its external economic activity, especially in Africa.
The new Prime Minister, Li Keqiang, will also be inaugurated early next year.