Chinese President Xi Jinping packs Politburo Standing Committee, or the PBCS, of the Chinese Communist Party with ‘friends’. Outgoing premier Li Keqiang and former vice premier Wang Yang move out of the 20th Central Committee, marking an ouster of the ‘youth league faction’. Xi was hailed as “People’s Leader”, further elevating his status. China’s total trade surplus with India surpasses $1 trillion. Minister of External Affairs S. Jaishankar lays out the pieces of India’s China policy at a think tank event. British pilots helped train People’s Liberation Army personnel in China. Chinascope brings you stories from the 20th Party Congress held in Beijing and other major events that happened around the world this week.
China over the week
At noon Beijing time Sunday, seven men walked into an auditorium packed with Chinese and international journalists. These men, including General Secretary Xi Jinping, are on the next PBSC, the top decision-making body in China.
After months of speculation, we have learned that Xi has packed the PBSC with friends and allies. Besides Xi, Li Qiang, Zhao Leji, Wang Huning, Cai Qi, Ding Xuexiang, and Li Xi are the other members. Li Qiang, slated to be the next premier of China, has been elevated from the role of Shanghai party secretary to the number two position. The elevation is a break from tradition as he hasn’t served as the vice premier before being nominated for the post of premier.
Even more surprising was the complete ouster of two moderate candidates – Wang Yang and Hu Chunhua – from the nominations. Wang is now likely to retire as he isn’t included on the Central Committee, and Hu Chunhua hasn’t even been included in the next Politburo. Li Keqiang is set to retire as well. With the ouster of these three personalities from the top echelon of power, the tuan pai, or the communist league faction, have been completely sidelined.
Besides the PBSC, a new 24-member Politburo was announced on Sunday. There are a few immediate implications for India.
Two individuals on the new Politburo have a history of dealing with India, directly or indirectly. Wang Yi, the State Councillor and foreign minister, will now sit on the new Politburo and replace Yang Jiechi as the next director of the Central Foreign Affairs Commission. Wang Yi has been at the forefront of negotiations over the current India-China standoff in Ladakh.
Another individual, He Weidong, previously the commander of the Eastern Theatre Command, is set to join the Politburo and become the vice chairman of the Central Military Commission. He Weidong has, in the past, served as the commander of the Western Theatre Command Ground Force from July 2016 till December 2019. He was in command during the 2017 Doklam standoff and would have overseen China’s military deployment before the June 2020 Eastern Ladakh conflict.
In the coming weeks, we will try to make more sense of the new leadership line-up.
As dust settles on Xi’s speech at the 20th Party Congress’ opening session, people are trying to interpret his words. While the text of the speech is important, we need to scrutinise its context as well. Xi’s speech can be classified as zhengzhi baogao (a political report) instead of guongzuo baogao (work report), wrote journalist David Bandurski in China Media Project.
The report, with its political substance, sought to set the broad tones of the CCP’s agenda for the next five years instead of a work report with bureaucratic undertones.
Taking another step to get close to Mao Zedong’s legacy, Xi was described as “People’s Leader” by Tian Peiyan, deputy director of the party’s Policy Research Office, during a press conference. “Such figures can organise people and turn the people’s shared aspirations into reality. General Secretary Xi Jinping is the outstanding figure of our era and the people’s leader,” said Peiyan. It is a lingxiu title first used in 2017 during the 19th Party Congress for Xi. But now, the Chinese President may officially secure it, further elevating his status in the party constitution.
In the past, only Mao and his successor Hua Guofeng have held the title as “Great Leader” and “Wise Leader”, respectively. If the title gets enshrined in the expected amendment to the Chinese constitution, Xi’s status will be elevated not just within the CCP but also in the entire history of the People’s Republic of China.
The title may become one of the precedents, among others, for Xi to rule China for years to come, according to experts.
Another interesting aspect of Xi’s report was the reference to the “regulation of wealth”, which gives some clarity about the direction of “common prosperity” campaign noted in the speech.
The “regulation of wealth” signals that Beijing may take a more interventionist approach to economic management by promoting the State-owned enterprise model and enforcing tighter controls on private enterprises that are already under attack.
Although Beijing may not exactly go after private entrepreneurs in the current economic climate, Xi’s speech signals a slow movement towards the end of the gilded age of unlimited accumulated wealth.
Ye Fan and Wang Runmeng, analysts at Southwest Securities, believe that Beijing may target property wealth and use taxes to adjust wealth distribution.
Xi’s statement on wealth has raised concerns in the investment world. The signs of the Chinese President filling the premiership role with an ally would signal a further departure from an economic agenda of the past managed by a trained bureaucrat – fueling some anxiety in the financial markets. Beijing has now decided to indefinitely delay releasing the third-quarter GDP figures.
China’s total trade surplus with India since trade between the two began booming in the 2000s has surpassed $1 trillion, according to fresh estimates by The Hindu.
“It is growing across the board, meaning we are importing a lot more than exporting. And the net is definitely going against us. But, we’re also keeping a watch as to if there’s a disproportionate increase against any one country,” said Indian finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman about the country’s trade deficit with China.
In 2021, annual two-way trade crossed the $100 billion mark for the first time, reaching a high of $125.6 billion.
Also read: Never waste a good crisis—How Xi Jinping removed his rivals, took control of CCP
China in world news
India’s China policy has been discussed by Jaishankar in interviews with media at home and abroad. But seldom does a government think tank host an event to lay out the pieces of India’s official thinking on relations with China.
This past week, that’s what we got to witness. Jaishankar spoke at a conference organised by the Centre for Contemporary China Studies, foreign ministry-affiliated think tank, in New Delhi. “Indeed, Indian policy in the past has exhibited a remarkable degree of self-restraint that led to the expectation that others can have a veto over its choices. That period, however, is now behind us. The ‘new era’ is apparently not just for China,” the foreign minister said in a Twitter thread.
In his remarks, he also mentioned an interesting term called “cumulative border balance”. We don’t exactly know what it really means. But we can guess that Jaishankar might be referring to the imbalance in the capabilities between the two nations.
The entire Twitter thread is worth reading.
On 11 October, the United Kingdom announced that the Liz Truss government was working on formally designating China as a ‘national security threat’. The latter was previously described as a “systemic competitor” by the Boris Johnson government. But a revelation this week showcased the lapses of the UK’s policy on China.
We learned that up to 30 former British military pilots trained PLA personnel for a lucrative pay cheque amounting to $270,000. The British pilots were being recruited through a head-hunting firm connected to a South Africa-based flying academy. Although the recruitment of British pilots doesn’t violate the current UK law, officials in multiple countries, including Australia and New Zealand, are investigating the case of their pilots training the Chinese military personnel.
One theory is that Beijing is seeking the know-how of pilots from Western countries to gain an advantage in a potential conflict over Taiwan.
As UK Prime Minister Lizz Truss has decided to resign, we will have to see if the plan of designating China a ‘threat’ moves ahead.
But that wasn’t the only UK-China story that made the top headlines.
Zheng Xiyuan, Chinese Consul General in Manchester, got into a violent scuffle with Hong Kong pro-democracy protestor Bob Chan and pulled the latter’s hair. UK foreign secretary James Cleverly summoned the Chinese Chinese Chargé d’Affaires, demanding an explanation for the incident. Meanwhile, Zheng told media in an interview with Sky News that pulling the protestor’s hair was his “duty”.
Also read: China was pushing ‘Xiplomacy’ all these years. World is waking up to it only now
India in China
Weibo users, this past week, shared screenshots of their new “made in India” iPhone 14. Mocking the model, they said: “Tastes like curry”. “Remember to wash your hands,” said another when referring to touching the ‘Indian’ iPhone.
“Apple is forcibly ‘decoupling’ in order to cater to the White House” wrote another user about Apple moving supply chains out of China.
Some other users asked if the iPhone was being manufactured in Vietnam and were surprised to find the ‘Made in India’ label on the models.
20 October marked the 60th anniversary of the 1962 India-China War. The hashtag “The 60th anniversary of the Sino-Indian border self-defense counterattack” trended on Weibo and was viewed 1.3 million times. Beijing, too, officially describes the war as a “self-defense counterattack war”.
Nationalistic Weibo users posted images comparing the 1962 Indian Army to the modern-day force deployed in Ladakh. “60 years have passed, and Asan still has no progress, as always, he was captured alive…” wrote a Weibo blogger with more than 3,16,000 followers.
Despite some independent commentary, the official State media largely remained silent on the topic as the 20th Party Congress dominated the news.
What you must read this week
In China, 1962 anniversary brings new attention to ‘forgotten’ war – Ananth Krishnan
China’s Military Is Catching Up to the U.S. Is It Ready for Battle? – Alastair Gale
The author is a columnist and a freelance journalist, currently pursuing an MSc in international politics with a focus on China from School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), University of London. He was previously a China media journalist at the BBC World Service. He tweets @aadilbrar. Views are personal.
(Edited by Humra Laeeq)