China’s congress ending with unity behind Xi’s vision for national greatness

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The Associated Press

Elaine Kurtenbach And Ken Moritsugu

Published Mar 11, 2024  •  3 minute read

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BEIJING (AP) — China’s national congress is wrapping up its annual session Monday with the usual show of near-unanimous support for plans designed to carry out ruling Communist Party leader Xi Jinping’s vision for the nation.

This year’s weeklong event, replete with meetings carefully scripted to allow no surprises, has highlighted how China’s politics have become ever more calibrated to elevate Xi.

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Monday’s agenda is lacking the usual closing news conference by the premier, who in the past was responsible for economic affairs as the party’s No. 2 leader — the one time each year when journalists could directly question a top leader.

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The annual news conferences have been held most years since 1988, and the decision to scrap the event emphasizes Li Qiang ‘s relatively weak status. Past premiers have played a much larger role in leading key economic policies such as modernizing state enterprises, coping with economic crises and leading housing reforms that transformed China into a nation of homeowners.

A key item due to be put for a ritual vote on Monday are revisions of the “Organic Law of the State Council,” China’s version of a cabinet, that direct it to follow Xi’s vision.

“The Communist Party always called the shots but the party leaders who ran the State Council used to have a much freer hand in setting economic policy,” Neil Thomas, a Chinese politics fellow at the Asia Society Policy Institute, said in an emailed comment.

“Xi has been astonishingly successful in consolidating his personal hold over the party, which has allowed him to become the key decisionmaker in all policy domains,” Thomas said.

In foreign policy, China appears to be sticking with Wang Yi as foreign minister, who stepped back into the post last summer after his successor, Qin Gang, was abruptly dismissed without explanation after a half year on the job.

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Analysts thought that the Communist Party might use the annual congress to appoint a new foreign minister and close the book on an unusual spate of political mishaps last year that also saw the firing of a new defense minister after a few months on the job.

The Organic Law of the State Council is being revised for the first time since it was adopted in 1982. The revision calls for the State Council, above all, to “uphold the leadership of the Communist Party of China.” It also adds the governor of China’s central bank as a ministerial post.

Echoing words seen in just about every proposal, law or speech made in China these days, it spells out that China’s highest governing officials must adhere to the party’s guiding ideology, which refers back to Marxism-Leninism and Mao Zedong Thought and culminates in Xi’s philosophy on “Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era.”

As Xi’s government champions innovation and self-reliance in technology as ways to build a modern, wealthy economy it is leaning heavily on more overtly communist ideology that harkens back to past eras.

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Xi has fortified the party’s role across the spectrum, from culture and education to corporate management and economic planning, a potentially risky strategy.

The “benefits may be outweighed by the costs of stifling political discussion, disincentivizing local innovation and more policy shifts,” Thomas said.

During this year’s congress, many provincial meetings were opened to the media for the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic, though they were carefully scripted with speeches and other prepared remarks and none of the spontaneity once glimpsed in real group discussions on the sidelines of the meetings in decades past.

The contrast with polarized politics in the U.S. and robust debate in other democracies could not be more stark: China’s political rituals, void of any overt dissent, put unity of opinion above all.

Marching orders endorsed by the congress include calls to ensure national security and social stability, at a time when job losses and underpayment of wages have sparked rising numbers of protests.

Along with following “the guidance of Xi Jinping Thought” and other party directives, developing “new quality productive forces” _ a term coined by Xi last September — emerged as a new catchphrase at this year’s congress.

The term suggests prioritizing building self-reliance in science and technology as China confronts trade sanctions and curbs on access to advanced know-how in computer chips and other areas the U.S. and other countries deem to be national security risks.

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