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19th CCP Congress

CCP 19th Party Congress Implications

9 December 2017

Impact of 19th Party Congress


On 29 November 2017, the EU-Asia Centre, CI-VUB, BACES, ULB, together with other partners organized a two-day conference on the 19th Party Congress and its impact on domestic and foreign policy.

China’s domestic politics

Fraser Cameron, Director of the EU-Asia Center (chair), said that the 19th Party Congress had set out clear guidelines on the domestic and foreign policy fronts. President Xi had highlighted the huge internal challenges including growing inequality, the need for further economic reforms, the poor state of the environment, and the importance of improving the rule of law.

Prof. Yuejin Jing, Department of Political Science at Tsinghua University, said that changes in domestic politics were always announced in the PC reports which makes them a good measure of China’s development: from the Deng Xiaoping Theory to the Theory of the Three Representatives to the Scientific Outlook and now to Xi Jinping’s Socialism with Chinese characteristics in a New Era. This new path could firstly be defined by what it was not: neither the old road (one party system, planned economy) nor the wrong road (multi-party politics, market economy). Instead the essence of the new model was that it realized the transition from a planned economy to a market economy while at the same time preserving the one-party ruling system with an emphasis on leadership.

Prof. Chunrong Liu, School of Public and International Studies at Fudan University offered three major assessments: there was going to be incremental political reform, embedded in a resilient political space with policy creating politics. As a result, the nature of Chinese politics could be expected to change rather by reshaping old institutions than by producing new ones. There was evidence of a new political climate (party-led/tightening of party discipline, law-based/anti-corruption, people centered/local competition and experimentation, social protection regime) and possibly signs pointing towards the end of collective leadership. The nexus domestic-foreign politics (the deeper China transforms itself, the more it transforms the world) was going to be left untouched by these reforms.

Prof. Thierry Kellner, ULB (discussant) highlighted that China’s society was in motion, especially regarding social space. There were more and more people with a background in social sciences taking the lead (no technocrats) as well as returnees from the US and EU, seeking to influence future politics, both of which were strong social forces to be taken into account. Kellner pointed out that China’s exceptional understanding of itself was bearing risks (e.g. Chinese characteristics in science, rule of law).

In the discussion questions were raised about inter-party democracy, censorship and the role of civil society. Prof. Liu pointed out that Shanghai was one example where enormous resources had been mobilized in order to prevent “instabilization” by strengthening grassroot level organizations which, since 1996, have flourished underneath the high level of politics.


China’s Economic Policy

Chaired by Zhang Jing from Peking University, the second panel offered an overview of the economic challenges China faces on both domestic and external levels, as well as the highlights of the “new upcoming era”.

For Prof. Weiping Huang, School of Economics, Renmin University of China, said the main challenge is to address the unbalanced and inadequate development and end poverty by 2020. The partnerships between wealthy and less-developed Chinese will be instrumental to that aim. To “build a modern socialist China that is prosperous, strong, democratic, culturally advanced, harmonious and beautiful”, the reforms will lay emphasis on supply-side structural reform, modern finance, performance and boosting innovation capacity. He also pointed out that it is imperative for China to develop a modernized economy model that promotes coordinated development of the real economy with technological innovation, modern finance and human resources. More effective market mechanisms, dynamic micro-entities and sound macro-regulation are of great significance in this new economy model.

Prof Jean-Christophe Defraigne, Saint-Louis University, Brussels, underscored two major challenges that Chinese economy has to deal with, namely rising wages and scarcity of workforce due to population ageing. Boosting productivity through increased R&D spending is the only solution to deal with rising wages. Yet China still lags behind many developed countries, in terms of registered patents internationally, international cooperation in scientific publication. The increase of Chinese firms in the top global 500 firms can be cited as a notable progress.

He also elaborated on the growing Chinese FDI, especially in the EU, which focuses on merging-acquisitions to have access to European technologies, a significant shortcoming of Chinese economy. Chinese economic modernisation will prioritize building strong national high-tech champions. EU Member states’ divergent reactions to Chinese FDI were mentioned. While some MS sees the opportunities it opens up for European companies, others cite concerns over China catching-up European technology capacities. Yet the equipment of high-tech was cited as an area where Europeans and Americans will still have an added value in their relations with China.


Ms Ying Li raised the issues of supply-side reforms, the prospects for EU-China cooperation as well as the results of R&D spendings in the long-run. During the discussion, questions were raised about the EU proposal for an investment screening board and its impacts on Chinese FDI, the issue of the worrying rising provincial debt in China.


Chaired by Duncan Freeman, College of Europe, the third panel focused on challenges faced by Chinese society in the new era, such as the breakdown of traditional relationship between individuals and working units, aging problem, income and wealth inequality etc.

Prof. Jing Zhang, Chairwoman, Department of Sociology, Peking University, elaborated on the changes in the relationship between individuals and organizations in China. She pointed out that since 1949, Chinese government relied heavily on grass-roots organizations notably the working units (Danwei) to develop indirect connections, accountability and representative functions with individuals, but the intermediary role of these working units has been weakened due to rapid urbanization and changing fertility behaviors these decades. The transformation from a “unit society” to “public society” and indirect governance to direct governance presents an unprecedented challenge to social governance.

Prof. Peng Du, Vice President, Renmin University of China, underscored the ageing problem and its impacts on Chinese social development. China is expected to become one of the oldest countries in 2050 with an estimated 34% of the population above 60. The ageing trend affects the social development in many respects, including with regard to the achievement of SDGs(Sustainable Development Goals) and Healthy China 2020 and narrowing down of uneven development gaps. It involves creating an age-friendly environment that is underpinned by a promotion of intergenerational relationship and social participation of the elderly. 

Prof. Maelys de la Rupella, Universite de Cergy-Pontoise, France, highlighted the economic causes of social instability in China including the increasing income/wealth inequality, rural-urban inequality, education inequality and social insecurity. Inequality was growing at an alarming pace and institutions producing these inequalities were loosing their economic validity. Crafting of a new social model is necessary to cope with these challenges.

Discussant Ms. Solange Guo Chatelard, Sciences Po Paris challenged the worries shared by many over the weakening role of the working units as intermediary institutions and shared her observation on a new form of parent-children relationship in China. In the discussion, questions were raised about the feasibility of immigration as the solution to the ageing problem, the meaning of public society and current state of social monitoring system in China.

Chaired by Jian Shi, Sichuan University, the fourth panel gave a broad overview of current environmental problems and achievements in China as well as of the cooperation between China and the EU in the environmental field.

Dr. Yong Li, Senior Advisor, China Association for NGO, outlined the ecological civilization under China’s new era. In the 19th Congress, China made a strong commitment towards ecological civilization and developing a new model of modernization with human development in harmony with nature. A “beautiful China” was set as one of the final targets as a great modern socialist country in 2050. New actions are taken: the promotion of green development, the solving of prominent environmental problems, the protection of ecosystems and the reforming of the environmental regulation system. As the world’s biggest market on environmental protection, this creates room for cooperation between EU and China especially in exchanging technology and best practices.  

Mr. Yunhan Zhang, University of Gent, pointed out that in the 19th Party Congress, the mention of the word “environment” exceeded the word “economy” for the first time. He then illustrated the efforts of China in environmental protection since the 18th Congress Party from 3 perspectives: top-level design( the Integrated Reform Plan for Promoting Ecological Civilization 2015), institutional construction( the creation of the Central Leading Group for Comprehensively Deepening Overall Reform in 2013 and Revisions to the Environmental Protection Law in 2015)and enforcement supervision( the environmental administrative accountability system etc. ).

Dr. Helge Elisabeth Zeitler, International Environment Cooperation, European Commission, acknowledged that China-EU cooperation is very much active in the environmental area. Instead of stressing the economic growth, now China gives much priority to the quality of growth. The greatest challenge for China and the global governance lies in the implementation and enforcement of commitments and legislations. EU needs to work closely with China on related areas such as working together on the “16+1” platform to ensure the high standards of environment protection are implemented.

Dr. Laurent Beduneau Wang, Mines Paristech(ISIGE/CSI), France, pointed out that stronger commitments by the CPC on climate change contributed to increase its legitimacy. During the discussion, questions were raised concerning the state of implementation of such commitments at local government level in China, and how EU views China’s and US’s role in the global governance on climate change.


On 30 November 2017 the conference continued with the first panel on political and security aspects in Chinese foreign policy and external relations. In opening the panel Dr. Xinning Song (Renmin University & VUB) said that China was aiming for a balanced great power relationship and saw itself as the maintainer of the international order. In the same vein China was going to actively participate in the framework of global governance but was not seeking to take the lead.

Prof. Mario Telo (ULB) said that in Asia too reactions to China’s emergence as a global player were controversial. He pointed out that the concept of “balanced power” was ambiguous and questioned whether China’s military strategy was merely aiming at defense or rather at balancing US’ power. In reality the world was not bipolar anymore and the gap between the US and the rest of the world was increasing.

Prof. Zhongqi Pan (Fudan University) said that there were two key terms outlined in the report. Clearly the internal dimension was central but the external one equally pronounced. China was aspiring a new type of strategic partnerships and was ready for greater contribution (co-consultation, co-building, co-sharing).

Mr. Xavier Nuttin (EIAS/discussant) said that rather than rising China was back and seeking to become a world leader. With the West appearing to be momentarily weakened China was using a window of opportunity and offered an alternative governance model e.g. by means of setting up new China-led international institutions (AIIB, BRI).

The second and last panel of the conference discussed economic aspects of Chinese foreign policy and external relations.

Dr. Duncan Freeman (College of Europe) said that in economic terms China’s growing importance was obvious, given that one had to focus on who was contributing how much to global growth, rather than assessing single countries. At the same time the domestic factor could not be ignored and it was going to be important to follow what was happening within China. He said he expected a rather gradual development regarding economic transition with great confidence on the Chinese part.

Prof. Chun Ding (Fudan University) said the main message of the report was that China was going to become more open on all fronts. Domestically this meant e.g. a balance in regions (open up Western provinces, pilot trade free zones, explore the opening of free trade ports). He said that internationally upgrading the service sector was a priority as much as ever.