Chinese leader Xi Jinping opened the fourth plenary session of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP)’s 19th Central Committee with a speech about the need for Beijing to “modernize its state governance,” which observers say could be part of the CCP’s strategy to export the Chinese socialism system to the world.
The four-day political conference, where top officials usually discuss personnel changes and political reforms, began at the Jingxi hotel in Beijing on Oct. 28. Some 372 members of the Party elite have the right to attend, as incumbent and alternate members of the CCP’s Central Committee.
But Beijing and state-run media usually don’t disclose how many of the qualified officials attend.
Xi’s New Concept
Chinese state-run media Xinhua reported on Oct. 28 that Xi spoke about how to “perfect socialism with Chinese characteristics, promote modernization of the state governance system, and governance capability.”
The report used the phrase “China style of governance” to describe the system that Xi promoted in his speech, noting that Xi set the goal of having it “generally implemented” by 2035 and “fully implemented” by 2049.
Xinhua didn’t elaborate on the concept, simply quoting Xi using Party jargon to emphasize that the Party would seek “the stability of society, and the long-term peace and stability of the country.”
Xi also repeated his “Two Centenaries” goals, an idea laid out in October 2017: by the centenary of the CCP’s founding, he hoped to build the country into a “xiaokang society” by 2021, meaning a doubling of the 2010 per capita income figures; and by the centenary of the CCP’s takeover of China in 2049, to build the country into a “modern socialist country.”
“The so-called ‘modernization of the state governance system and governance capability’ is in actuality the CCP’s digital totalitarian system,” Tang Jingyuan, a U.S.-based commentator, said in an interview. “It’s an announcement that the CCP won’t adapt democracy, freedoms, or other universal values in China.”
Tang explained that the Party has used similar wording to describe its high-tech surveillance and monitoring of Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang. It also used such wording in 2014 to introduce the social credit system, under which all citizens would have their public activities tracked, recorded, and assigned a score of “trustworthiness” by authorities.
“The system monitors Chinese society from all angles, including through the social credit system on people and companies,” Tang said. “It will perfect the system with the most advanced technologies, including artificial intelligence (AI), big data, facial recognition, and so on.”
He added that the Party is using phrasing such as “China’s style of governance” to legitimize its Orwellian surveillance.
Western countries have raised concerns about the security risks involved in Chinese tech products and companies. But the Party wants to prove that high-tech surveillance can help it maintain its rule and China’s economic development, eventually “expanding the system to other countries,” such as through One Belt, One Road initiatives.
Such infrastructure projects throughout Asia, Europe, and Africa often involve contracts to use Chinese IT infrastructure, such as equipment supplied by the tech giant Huawei.
Tang added that the Party has introduced another concept called the “community of a shared future for mankind,” which he says has similar connotations to a global system based on China’s model of governance.
Just before the opening of the plenary session, the Party’s rubber-stamp legislature unexpectedly announced on Oct. 26 that two top military generals were dismissed from their positions and their membership in the congress. They are Lt. Gen. Rao Kaixun, who was deputy commander and chief of staff of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Strategic Support Force, and Maj. Gen. Xu Xianghua, who was deputy commander of the Western Theater Command.
On Oct. 25, state-run media Xinhua reported that several Party boss positions were being reshuffled: Li Jiheng would be swapped out of his role as provincial Party secretary of Inner Mongolia and become minister of civil affairs, following the retirement of the previous official, while Shi Taifeng will take the post in Inner Mongolia and move out of his Party boss role in Ningxia Province. Since Inner Mongolia is a wealthier province, the move is considered a promotion. Chen Run’er replaces Shi, leaving his post as Henan Province governor.
The Party secretary is a more powerful position than the governor. The changes are believed to involve factional power moves ahead of the plenum.