THE COMMUNIQUE FROM the Party plenum that concluded this week contained nothing much by way of surprises or detail. The latter will dribble out in the ensuing weeks and months. Nonetheless, the confident tone of a country that believes it is ‘its time’ oozed out.
The broad outlines for the next five-year plan (2021-25), and for to 2035 were as expected — sustainable growth more dependent on domestic demand and a push for technological self-sufficiency. There were a couple of mentions of ‘dual circulation’, but there will be no deviation from the path of building a socialist market economy, nor from the Party’s strong leadership.
As expected, there is no public GDP growth goal. However, the ambition to achieve the per capita income of a ‘moderately developed country’ by 2035 implies a successful clearing of the middle-income trap.
Self-reliance in technology, with semiconductors at its core as the foundation of innovation in next-generation industries from artificial intelligence to autonomous vehicles, is formally raised to the status of a national strategic goal — not that has not been in practice.
Other commitments in the communique are familiar: peak carbon emissions by 2035, continued opening up of the economy, speeding up the modernisation of the military and the rural economy.
If anything reading the political tea leaves is more interesting than parsing the economic plans.
No hint of a successor or end term for President Xi Jinping, although the economic planning to 2035, when Xi will be in his 80s, indicates a timeline. Stability in Hong Kong and Macau echoes hardening domestic security on the mainland. The pro-forma intent to develop peaceful ties with Taiwan is paired for the first time in a while with a reminder of the goal of reunification.
Most of all, the emphasis on military modernisation and the theme of ‘ the unity of a rich country and a strong army’ speaks to a confident China taking a more assertive role as a global power at a time of perceived opportunity, regardless of the challenges.
As the communique states:
The world today is undergoing major changes unseen in a century, a new round of scientific and technological revolution and industrial transformation is undergoing in-depth development, the international power balance is undergoing profound adjustment, peace and development remain the theme of the times, and the concept of a community of human destiny is deeply rooted in people’s hearts, while the international environment is becoming increasingly complex and instability and uncertainty are obviously increasing.
China has shifted to a stage of high-quality development, with significant institutional advantages, improved governance, long-term economic growth, a strong material foundation, abundant human resources, broad market space, strong development resilience, stable social conditions, and multiple advantages and conditions for continued development…
The whole Party should co-ordinate the overall strategic situation of the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation and the great changes that the world has not seen in a century…actively seek changes, be good at nurturing opportunities in crises, opening new situations in changes, seizing opportunities, responding to challenges, seeking advantages and avoiding disadvantages, and moving forward courageously.