By Emily Prosser
On October 22, China’s Communist Party elected President Xi Jinping for a third five-year term, demonstrating the party’s full support for President Xi’s agenda. This agenda includes increasing government crackdowns on industry, which will further strengthen China’s tightening economic and military grip in the region.
In his address at the beginning of the National Party Convention, President Xi detailed both his domestic plans for China and his intentions for China’s role on the world stage. In a speech closely watched by analysts, President Xi addressed his position on Taiwan, stating, “we will continue to strive for a peaceful reunification [with Taiwan] with the greatest sincerity and utmost effort, but we will never promise to renounce the use of force and we reserve the option of taking all measures necessary.” This underscores the lengths to which China is willing to go to defend its claim over Taiwan, furthering fears of a possible military altercation if the United States intervenes and does not continue to abide by the One China Policy.
President Xi also reiterated his priority for “more state control and more centralization,” in economic affairs. However, it seems that President Xi has an even more singular focus on Chinese technological self-sufficiency, especially when it comes to mass-production of Chinese semiconductors. President Xi seems almost desperate to ramp up production, as he recognizes semiconductors’ crucial role in his long-term strategic goal: Chinese economic and military dominance on the world stage. Without this self-sufficiency, China would be reliant upon Western producers, a serious problem if relations remain tense. Indeed, the United States has already tried to prevent Chinese access to semiconductor technologies on more than one occasion. Continued restrictions on these technologies would hinder China’s manufacturing sector, which is crucial to its economic dominance. In an effort to maintain primacy in manufacturing, President Xi believes top-down government control of companies in the semiconductor industry to be the quickest and most effective avenue to achieve these goals.
In addition to reaffirming support for President Xi and his vision, party leadership removed Premier Li Keqiang from the second-highest ranking position in the party’s Standing Committee. This decision signals a break in support for Premier Li’s more free-market reforms and proves there is unwavering commitment within party leadership to President Xi’s policies. Perhaps more importantly, it is yet another signal by Party leadership that China will leave behind the market reforms of the 2010s that saw widespread growth in China’s economy. Instead, China’s Communist Party leadership seems content to tie their fortunes to President Xi’s unfounded plan to increase centralization.
President Xi is easily China’s most powerful leader since Chairman Mao Zedong. Having just won his third election as General Secretary, the de facto leader of China, President Xi seems to be in no danger of losing power and influence within China’s Communist Party. This election further cements the Party’s about-face in strategy. Ever steadfast in its goal to propel China to its greatest heights on the global stage, the Party is giving up on a more economically liberal path to the top. Ten years ago, with the introduction of market reforms, one could hear excited talk of the possibility of China becoming a more open, freer country. Now, however, it is clear that President Xi is more committed than ever before to a Maoist vision of China, using a combination of central planning and brute force to become the world’s new hegemon.
It would be a mistake to dismiss this latest election as more of the same. The United States must remain on high alert when it comes to China. While one can always hope for a peaceful and mutually beneficial resolution to precarious U.S.-Chinese relations, it would be a mistake to underestimate President Xi’s ambitions. President Xi’s third term will likely see many obstacles as tensions with the United States continue to escalate, the economy continues to struggle, and intraparty fights continue to rage. However, President Xi has proven his mettle time and time again, and he will do so once more if given the chance.