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Posters of Mao Zedong and Xi Jinping

The 19th CCP Congress will boost strongman politics

The decisions presented at the 19th Party Congress will define China’s future path. MERICS researchers have analysed the main developments characterizing China’s ruling party today. In the China Monitor “Hardening the party line – The 19thCCP Congress will boost strongman politics and narrow China’s developmental options”, MERICS researcher Matthias Stepan argues that the events at this year’s congress will provide clear hints about the real extent of Xi’s power and his ability to shape China’s political agenda for the next five years and potentially even beyond the end of his second term in 2022.

Although Xi appears to be unchallenged within the party at present, a full endorsement of his political agenda is not a foregone conclusion. In his second term, he might have to apply the brakes to his international ambitions and turn his attention towards more pressing issues at home, where China is faced with severe economic challenges. Restructuring of unprofitable state-owned enterprises is long overdue, and debt levels of state entities as well as private enterprises are in danger of spiralling out of control.

Looking at possible scenarios of Xi’s political future shows a rather mixed picture: If he pushes through his agenda at the upcoming congress, his centralized and authoritarian approach to policy making will effectively narrow China’s developmental trajectory, Stepan concludes. Should Xi’s personal authority suffer due to policy failures or declining health, China may be left without options for a transition to a more elastic and open polity.

Conversely, however, if Xi Jinping’s vision of a strictly disciplined, IT-backed Communist Party rule turns out to be politically effective and economically productive, China’s political system may well become the new global model for authoritarian governments. Should his assertive approach to foreign policy get an additional boost at the party congress, tensions in international diplomacy, trade and security may increase. No matter what the outcome of the party congress will be: dialogue and cooperation between China and its Western partners will very likely become more challenging.

Authors

Head of Program Public Policy