At the opening ceremony of the China Communist Party’s 20th National Congress on October 16, General Secretary of the Communist Party of China Xi Jinping mentioned the word “security” nearly 90 times in his speech, showing that “security” is becoming his biggest worry, according to Radio Free Asia (RFA). Some scholars said that because China’s economy has stagnated, Xi is trying to shift direction from economic growth to security, in order to get people to come together.

Xi’s biggest worry

Xi mentioned the word “security” or “safety” 89 times in his October 16 speech, up from 55 times when he mentioned national security at the the 19th National Congress of the CCP in 2017.

Tang Zhixue aka Joseph Torigian, an assistant professor at American University specializing in the CCP’s political elite system, said on his personal Twitter account that Xi mentioned in his speech that the CCP is “facing a serious and complex international situation with enormous risks and challenges” even more than in 2017.

Tang believes this could mean that Xi’s understanding of the international environment is more “pessimistic” than it was in 2017.

Wu Muluan, also known as Alfred Wu, associate professor at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy at the National University of Singapore, makes it clear that Xi is most concerned about is security. According to Xi, China is facing many dangers and the country is in a state of war. Wu said, “In the past, the power of China’s leaders was based on economic growth. Now with the economy stagnating, Xi tries to shift direction from economic growth to security, saying that he can be the savior and protector of the Chinese people.” With this narrative, Xi wants people to unite and see him as central.

Zhuang Jiaying, an associate professor of political science at the National University of Singapore, said increased coverage of security issues is not surprising because China today has many more things to worry about than five years ago. For example, the competition with the U.S. is becoming more intense, the uncertainty surrounding the war in Ukraine, and the COVID-19 pandemic.

A big change

Zhang Taisu, a professor at the American Yale School of Law, pointed out that this year in Xi’s speech, “stability” is more important than ever. Stability is not only a condition for the growth of the economy, which is in recession but also has become the goal of the CCP. 

Deutsche Welle reported that Chen Zhiwu, a professor of Finance at the Business School of University of Hong Kong, has observed a major change: The 20th Congress did not emphasize economic development and economic reform. Chen said that from the 14th to the 19th Party Congress, economic development was always clearly stated by the CCP as a central task, while this time it was not mentioned. Instead, the focus is on “holistic” development. That is, not only economic development but also political, social, environmental, and cultural development.

Gaomin, also known as Mary Gallagher, director of the Center for China Studies at the University of Michigan, summed up Xi’s speech on the economy as: Don’t lie flat. Don’t expect the state to help you do what you can.

Richard McGregor, a China expert at the Lowy Institute for International Policy, an Australian think tank, said, “After Xi Jinping’s 10-year tenure, the CCP has moved from collective leadership to authoritarianism, from limited tenure to lifelong leadership, from the private sector to the public sector, from private wealth to shared prosperity, and from globalization to technological independence.”

McGregor added that the relationship between the CCP and the U.S. had also turned to “confrontation,” and that Xi’s speech stressed their commitment to the “zero-COVID” policy had also people’s expectation that pandemic policies will probably be relaxed after the 20th National Congress.

Radio Free Asia (RFA) reported on October 16 that independent scholar Wen Zhigang said that Xi Jinping’s report is essentially a summary and a copy of his ruling over the past decade, highlighting achievements in poverty reduction, defense and foreign affairs, and at the same time describing the fight against corruption as a “remarkable victory,” thereby masking the reality of the economic recession. At the economic level, the report still emphasizes the need to continue to focus on the domestic cycle.

Hong Lin, a veteran in the media industry, believes that the report from the 20th National Congress of Deputies basically does not mention anything related to development. In previous reports, there were comments on the development of the economy. Regarding the economy, Xi emphasized the dominant position of the state-owned sector.

The opening time of this year’s 20th National Congress was an hour later than in 2017.  

Over the next few days, nearly 3,000 delegates will have group discussions on the CCP’s report and constitutional amendments. The 20th Congress will close on October 22.

After the closing of the 20th National Congress, the First Plenary Meeting of the 20th Central Committee of the CCP and the first plenary session of the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection will be held to elect the new leadership of the Central Committee and the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection. After the First Plenary Session of the Central Committee, new members of the Politburo Standing Committee will meet with Chinese and foreign journalists.

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