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Event Report-China’s 19th Party Congress

26 October 2017

On 24 October the EU-Asia Center organized a panel discussion on the implications of China’s 19th Party Congress held from 18 October to 24 October in Beijing. Opening the event, Fraser Cameron, Director of EU-Asia Centre, pointed out it was most timely to hold this conversation following the once-every five years Party Congress and discuss its impacts on the party, the state, the EU and the world.


Kerry Brown, Director of the Lau Institute, London and author of several books on China, said it was clear that this Congress was presented as a much more global event than last time in 2012. China’s domestic policies are now global, as it is behaving more and more as a global power. The party narrative was designed to show the people were the masters but the CCP would implement agreed policy. The party’s tasks were hugely complicated given the amount f detail in the 3.5 hours of report plus the 14 strategic objectives. Implementation would be critical. China was facing rising expectations both inside and outside the country. This was inevitable given the rise of China. A key question was whether Xi and the party could deliver and fulfill the hopes of a rising Chinese middle class, which was hungry and fierce. To deal with these high expectations, Chinese elites need a strong narrative especially when the gap between the so-called “great future” and the “tough today” is narrowing and the “good time” is kind of coming.


Yang Xiaoguang, Counsellor, Chinese Mission to the EU, outlined how the 19th Party Congress aimed to ensure a stable and prosperous future for China. Building on the political report presented during the Congress, he illustrated this from six perspectives:  China’s enduring commitment to its own original path ‘Socialism with Chinese Characteristics’; an increased focus on a “beautiful China” laying emphasis on green and sustainable development over GDP growth; a more open China and a reaffirmed commitment to the opening-up policy including protection of FDI and more market access; continuing reform in all aspects; putting people first in the education, employment, social security, poverty reduction fields; strict discipline applied to the party itself (establishment of the sun-system for supervision). While the report mainly focused on domestic policies, it laid out a few guidelines for future foreign policy. China’s development meant big opportunities and growth for the world. The goals would include the establishment of a new type of major power relations, promoting OBOR and reforming global governance. China’s development would fully benefit bilateral relations, especially in the context of the EU-China Year of Tourism that will take place next year. He concluded by one sentence: “China’s development is good for the world and China-EU relations”.


Song Xinning, China Director of Brussels Academy for China and European Studies and Director of Confucius Institute at VUB, said there were few surprises at the Party Congress. The so called “new era” did not seem so new to him because while China’s development was entering a new stage, the strategy was still a continuation of Deng Xiaoping’s Reform and Opening Up policy. But it was new in regard to the “new principle of contradiction”, which aimed to address the problem of unbalanced economic development and social injustice and to establish common prosperity for everyone. Besides, the new focus of deepening reforms would be improving the social and political governance capacities, rather than focusing solely on economic development. The “new era” would also prioritize “law-based governance” in the first stage (2020-2035), and then “rule of law” in the second stage (2035-2050). Despite all these, the initial stage of socialism would not be changed by 2050 and China would continue to behave as a developing country in world affairs. No big changes to foreign policy were underscored in the report, apart from the new type of “balanced great power relationships”. The OBOR Initiative was not a major topic in the report with only one sentence, but it had been included in the party’s statutes.


Ellis Mathews, Head of Division China, EEAS, elaborated on the commonalities between EU and China, as outlined in the report. These included harnessing globalization, contributing to the reform of global governance, focusing on sustainable development, technologies and innovation.


In the discussion questions were raised about how to perceive the democratic elements in the report (it will take time), the state of Sino-Russian partnership (massively one-sided), the impacts of technology on social harmony in China (what would the government do with big data?), the prospects and challenges of EU-China relationship (no major changes expected).


Closing the discussion, Fraser Cameron said that one thing was abundantly clear. As China moved into a new era, the world should be paying more and more attention to China as its policies and development track impacted on everyone.