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China This Week: The 19th Party Congress Begins

Oct 24, 2017

 On Wednesday, President Xi Jinping opened the twice-per-decade Communist Party Congress with a 3.5 hour speech that had "something for everyone" – including an app which allowed young smartphone users to virtually "clap" during each round. International commentators have scrambled to digest the sweeping speech – which covered everything from economics to society as he laid out his vision for China. If you don't have the patience to parse the speech, Discovery Channel China has a series which also seeks to explain the last five years of Xi's vision for China. 

Many have likened Xi's speech to a "report card" on China's performance since the president came to power five years ago, which Tan Hongkai describes as "the CPC's most comprehensive road map for its own, and the country's development, to date." Amalgamating the analysis by Western media outlets like The New York Times, Washington Post, The Guardian, Foreign Policy, and more, a neatly-parsed drumroll of key takeaways reads something like this: "Xi wants China to rise", "China has little interest in systems of western democracy", "Beijing talks tough on regions eyeing independence", "Xi seeks economic change rather than market reform", and "the Communist Party wants to lead China into a new era."

All of these concepts fit in with President Xi's rhetoric and ideology to date, which, according to Research Scholar Qin Xiaoying, "boil down to the omnipresence of state power." Reuters reporter John Ruwich, who attended the remarks, saw the speech through a slightly different lens. According to him, underlying all of these messages was the idea that "China is strong but getting stronger, and it is confident but getting more confident." Speaking directly to China, phraseologists have pointed to the language he used in noting "the contradiction between the people's increasing demand for a nice life and unbalanced and insufficient development," marking a pivot in his economic and development goals.

But in some cases, the omissions were more telling than the content. Xi did not mention Donald Trump, North Korea, or any other policy headlines, focusing on China and China alone. Perhaps more notable was his decision not to mention a key Party goal of doubling GDP by 2020, a move which some believe signals a shift away from quantity and towards quality.

Overall, it is important for Western readers to recognize that – even among the best news outlets – distilling translated three-hour speech into bullet-pointed themes rarely paints the full picture. However, themes identified in Xi's speech by talented journalists and commentators are likely to be strongly felt throughout the remainder of the Congress and into the next decades.

For the latest issue of China This Week, an exclusive weekly review and analysis of major trends and developments impacting the China-U.S. relations, please visit here.

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