India should not let its guard down as China is likely to up the ante by furthering militarisation, construction of dual-use ‘well-off society’ villages across the LAC and diverting waters of Yarlung Zangbo
Despite the expectations that China’s leader would get a clear life-tenure to run the country, the crucial sixth plenum of China’s Communist Party (CCP), which held its session at Beijing from 8-11 November with 384 full and alternative members of the Central Committee, has not endorsed such a prospect in any explicit manner.
The 6th plenum was tasked with reflecting on the hundred years of the CCP achievements and future tasks and to convene next year the 20th national CCP congress. At the end of the session, a communique was released on 11 November, and on 12 November a short 13-minute press briefing was organised to explain the main points of the plenum. The full resolution is not made available to the public, suggesting possible differences with other political factions in the party.
Of the seven plenary sessions in the life term of five years of a CCP congress in general, the 6th is devoted to party ideology and other political issues. Some of these sessions have become decisive such as the 6th plenum in 1945 when Mao Zedong firmly established his leadership in the CCP (till his death in 1976). The 6th plenum of 1981, likewise, provided Deng Xiaoping to firmly establish the reform and opening up policies. The 6th plenum in 2016 provided Xi Jinping with the badge of “core of the leadership”, suggesting his rising stock in the rank and file of the CCP.
This plenum of the 19th CCP glorified Xi Jinping as being “great”, “glorious” and leading a “correct party”. It further praised Xi as the “core”, “backbone”, and “anchor” and for playing “guiding role” and as the “principal founder” of Xi Jinping Thought”. The plenum statement also directed the rank and file for “resolutely upholding Comrade Xi Jinping’s core position on the Central Committee”.
Given the lack of transparency about the plenum proceedings and the entire resolution of this plenum has not been made public, only excerpts of this resolution in the form of a communique were released. The word “core” — associated with Xi Jinping since 2016 — was mentioned 16 times in the communique, while Xi Jinping himself was mentioned 18 times and Xi Jinping Thought seven times.
In comparison, the founding leader of the CCP, Mao Zedong was mentioned only seven times, while Deng Xiaoping five times, and Xi’s immediate predecessors and rival factional leaders Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao only once each.
Xi’s preferential themes were toned down in the communique. For instance, his “China Dream” was mentioned four times, while “China rejuvenation” 11 times. Surprisingly, Xi’s flagship outreach programme of Belt and Road Initiative was not even mentioned once, suggesting possibly to reassessments.
The plenum communique mentioned the historical achievements of the CCP in positive and glorifying tone, with no negative or critical review of its hundred years. For instance, there was no mention of the 40 to 50 million people killed during the Great Leap Forward or of the Cultural Revolution disruptions. Violent crackdown at Tiananmen Square in 1989 or the dislocations caused due to the reform and opening up policies found no space.
If the original mission of the CCP is “seeking happiness for the Chinese people and rejuvenation for the Chinese nation”, as the communique mentioned, then the above human-made tragedies stare at the CCP. The overall positive tone of the communique suggests possibly shoving away of these issues as they aggravate factional differences.
The communique mentioned Xi’s policies leading to “signiﬁcant progress… in all areas of the Party and country’s endeavours”, including his contribution in poverty alleviation campaign, anti-corruption drive, overcoming “lax and weak governance over Party organisations”, ushering in a “new pattern of development”, “high quality development”, holding of the first centennial of the CCP in July, and credits Xi for taking decisions left in the CCP “that were wanted but never got done.”
It praised Xi for “advancing our great struggle, great project, great cause, and great dream”. Comparing with the West, it mentions China’s rapid growth in a short span and achieving “the two miracles of rapid economic growth and enduring social stability”.
The deliberate and calculated disruptions that Xi brought in politics, economy, culture and other domains reflected in anti-corruption drive, dual circulation economy, restrictions on fintechs, edutechs, apps and effeminate characters on TV and others are seen as rebooting China’s party-state mechanisms and regain control which seemingly were lost during the last four decades of reform. Such measures had taken sectarian, all-out political factional struggles with Jiang Zemin, Hu Jintao (communist youth league) and others.
The plenum ended with a directive that all in China to “rally more closely around the Central Committee with Comrade Xi Jinping at its core”. While this directive could hardly be termed as endorsing life tenure for Xi Jinping, China’s political practice suggests that Xi may get an extension at the 2022 CCP congress.
On the external outlook, the communique mentioned reunification efforts with Taiwan, “major country diplomacy”, expanding “China’s international influence, appeal and the power to shape” and others.
In relation to India, the plenum’s stress on “major-country diplomacy” suggests China’s continuing focus on the United States, Russia and the European Union, while India and other countries are likely to be marginalized. This is reflected in the four meetings of the Himalayan Quad that China had organized with select South Asian countries or its Afghan policy with Pakistan as the lynchpin.
In the background of the Galwan fallout between China and India since June 2020, the “equal” stress on economy and security suggests that China is likely to up the ante by furthering militarisation, construction of dual-use “well-off society” villages across the Line of Actual Control and diverting waters of Yarlung Zangbo. With factional struggles intensifying in the run-up to the 20th CCP Congress in 2022, India should not let its guard down.
About the Author:
Srikanth Kondapalli, Professor, Center for East Asian Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, India