Teaching Comparative Government and Politics

Thursday, April 18, 2019

Old news revisited

An analysis from The South China Morning Post columnist reviews the release of one of President Xi's first speeches as leader of the PRC.

Xi Jinping’s speech shows China’s Communist Party is still haunted by the fall of the Soviet Union
Monday [marked] the publication of lengthy excerpts – 6,000 words in total – from a speech Xi gave in January 2013, less than two months after he became party chief and two months before he was confirmed as the state president…

Though innocuously titled “A few issues on upholding and developing socialism with Chinese characteristics” and made public six years later, those excerpts… are still significant and relevant today, because of their timing and content.

On January 5 six years ago, Xi gave that speech to about 300 newly appointed members of the party’s Central Committee with the rest of the seven-member Politburo Standing Committee – the country’s highest governing council – present at the auditorium of the Central Party School.
Some of the Chinese leadership

That was probably the first time Xi had revealed his intentions in detail to China’s political elites…

According to the excerpts, Xi struck a forceful but frank tone in laying out his vision for the party and the country and warning of the dangers ahead.

Citing Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, Xi said socialism would triumph over capitalism but cited Deng Xiaoping as saying that it would be a long historical process, which would probably take several dozens of generations.

He warned that the collapse of the Soviet Union served as a painful lesson for the party. The underlying reason for the collapse was that the Soviet Communist Party had lost its ideological controls, he said.

[H]e said the party’s decision to pursue reform and opening up in 1978 had ensured the country would achieve stability and prosperity without copying the Western system…

Even more interestingly, he recognised that Western developed countries would maintain long-term economic, technological, and military advantages and China must be fully prepared for the two systems – socialism in its primary stage and a more advanced capitalism – to cooperate and struggle for a long time to come.

As China must learn and borrow from capitalism, it must face the reality that people would compare the strong points of Western developed countries with the shortcomings of China’s socialist development and be critical, Xi said…

The timing of the release [of the speech] is also significant as several politically sensitive anniversaries are coming up.

June marks the 30th anniversary of the Tiananmen protests and the subsequent bloody government crackdown. Efforts to mark the occasion will again focus the international spotlight on China’s political system and spur calls for political reform.

In October, China will hold elaborate ceremonies to mark the 70 anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic. While China has lots to celebrate – its economic strength and its lifting of hundreds of millions of people out of poverty, for example – Chinese leaders will be reminded of the enormous domestic challenges ahead…

China’s economy may be the world’s second largest already and Xi has undertaken comprehensive and forceful steps to strengthen the party’s control at all levels of society, but its leaders are still smarting from the collapse of the then 69-year-old Soviet Union in 1991.

The release of Xi’s six-year-old speech is aimed at sending a clear message on where he stands on these thorny political issues.

The analyst who wrote this essay is Wang Xiangwei the former editor-in-chief of the South China Morning Post. He is now based in Beijing as editorial adviser to the paper. The South China Morning Post is an independent newspaper that almost always follows the Communist Party line.

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