Xi’s opening speech to the national congress: what you need to know – China’s latest top news

Jeremy Goldkorn’s selection of the top stories from China on October 18, 2017. Part of the daily The China Project newsletter, a convenient package of China’s business, political, and cultural news delivered to your inbox for free. Subscribe here.

Xi’s speech: What you need to know

The much-anticipated 19th Congress of the Communist Party opened on October 18 with a three-and-a-half-hour speech by President Xi Jinping broadcast live on all Chinese TV stations and live-streamed on the internet. There is a partial English transcript and translated video here and full Chinese transcript here.

The speech will be parsed meticulously by China-watchers in the coming days, but if I were Xi’s interpreter, this is how I would summarize it on the fly:

  • The Communist Party, with me as leader, has proven its legitimacy.
  • The Party must safeguard its leadership role and unity, and guard against ideological influence from the West. There is no space for political pluralism.
  • China has stood up, and will not be jerked around by anybody.
  • China now seeks a much greater role on the world stage.
  • China’s military is strong and needs to be stronger.
  • Although China’s military strategy is defensive, one of the most important achievements of the last five years was construction on the South Sea Islands, and the complaints of neighboring countries about this do not need to be acknowledged.
  • There is no softening of any kind on independence for Taiwan or any other territory that the Party currently defines as part of China.
  • Risks to China’s financial system and economy are very real, and the Party must handle the dangers effectively.
  • Inequality is an economic problem, but also a security risk.
  • Poverty alleviation is key.
  • The government will strongly support state-owned enterprises.
  • The environment is important and we will devote resources to reduce the harmful effects of economic growth [read more on this on our website].

Xi also introduced a new guiding principle that seems likely to be written into the Chinese constitution, thus cementing his theoretical contribution to the Party: “Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era” (see image above for Chinese).

Other 19th Party Congress links:

A warning and a prediction

On ChinaFile, Jessica Batke and Oliver Melton, former and current analysts at the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research, write on the difficulty of saying anything with certainty about elite Chinese politics and decision making. It’s worth quoting at length:

[I]n the face of deeply limited information, we have been forced to make assumptions about the C.C.P.’s motivations that are self-reinforcing, and the danger is that they are building off of each other to form a conventional wisdom about Chinese leadership politics that may be more fragile than many observers appreciate…

…If forced to make prognostications, the two of us would predict a Party Congress that does not break any major taboos (e.g., scrapping tacit age or term limits for Politburo Standing Committee members), but one that also portrays Xi as powerful and thoroughly in command of the Party (e.g., following previous leaders in having his wisdom included in the Party’s constitution). But we have very little confidence in any such judgments, because we believe that most of the associated evidence is ambiguous or unreliable. The one thing we do predict with high confidence is that media coverage of the events of the 19th Party Congress will box Chinese politics into overly clean and confident-sounding narratives about Xi’s power, with little mention of the crippling information gaps that should temper our conclusions.

The other propaganda show

Falun Gong, the politicized religious group that has been banned in China since 1999 and designated a cult, operates a growing media empire. New Tang Dynasty TV and Epoch Times are its best-known organs, with the latter gaining notoriety recently after its German edition supported far-right-wing causes. If you’re interested in this opaque organization and the way it seeks to communicate its anti-Party message, Hazlitt has published a good read about the group’s traveling song-and-dance show Shenyun — a performance of acrobatics, dance, and music that contains some rather crude anti–Communist Party propaganda.

India announces development of Bhutan trade routes

The Economic Times of India reports that India is developing multiple new Indo-Bhutan cross-border trade routes, and converting some seasonal customs posts for year-round operations. The Great Game between China and India for dominance over the Himalayas continues, despite the recent pause in play and a friendly gesture.