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China Peking Kommunistischer Parteitag Xi Jinping
Image: picture-alliance/AP Photo/N. H. Guan

Sieren's China: No point in resisting Xi

October 20, 2017

The 19th Congress of the Communist Party of China will further strengthen President Xi Jinping's position. He wants to be seen to be as important as the reformer Deng Xiaoping, says DW's Frank Sieren.


There's not a road in sight without red flags. Everyone is displaying them, from street kiosks to big banks. Beijing has been cleaned up for the 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China, the most important political event in the country for half a decade.

Every five years, there's a reshuffling of staff and the country's direction is readjusted inside the Great Hall of the People.

In the footsteps of Mao and Deng

This year, Xi is the focal point. He smiles mildly from posters on Beijing's streets, his hand raised in a fatherly greeting — one reminiscent of Mao Zedong and Deng's propaganda. Xi would love to attain their status.

That won't happen at this party congress, but perhaps he will manage to rise into Deng's league over the next few years. Mao's special status will remain unachievable. Only Deng was able to acquire at least two striking attributes of power: He was the most important man in China without holding political office or a top position in the party and he could invent and hand out titles, thus deciding on hierarchies.

China Peking Kommunistischer Parteitag
Xi will aim to consolidate power at the twice a decade congressImage: picture-alliance/dpa/G. Jinfh

Xi has not managed this, but he is already much more powerful than his two predecessors Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao, both of whom are attending this year's congress as honorary guests. Xi is the most ambitious, power-hungry and determined leader China has seen in a long time. Admired and feared, he has been able to sideline about a million officials suspected of corruption, including his greatest political rivals. Now, he plans to extend his anti-corruption campaign to all levels.

He has also launched huge projects, including the ambitious New Silk Road. Xi's ambition knows no bounds. He not only wants China to become the greatest economy in the world but also an important high-tech nation and a military superpower. Moreover, he is not only interested in the country's leading role on the world stage but also in space, intending to explore Mars and beyond. Xi has cracked down on parts of civil society and tightened the screws on the press to ensure that he has no obstacles.

Since he has succeeded in installing even more loyal followers in the Politburo, he will be able to fortify his autocratic top position. This means what Xi wants will be implemented faster — and that what he doesn't want will have an even slimmer chance of getting through.

Read more: Chinese author Ma Jian: 'The Communist Party keeps their people well-fed, but in a cage'

The Communist Party's role in business

Guidelines on patriotism were recently published according to which companies in China will have to be more in tune with the internal bodies of the Communist Party. This will also be the case for foreign firms that have joint ventures with local companies. The leaders of Communist Party commissions often hold positions on the board and in management and, therefore, the party not only has access to business secrets but also has a voice in internal decision-making. This can be an advantage when it comes to fighting corruption and debt, but not if the Party decides to wind down the market economy.

DW columnist Frank Sieren has lived in China for over 20 yearsImage: picture-alliance/dpa/M. Tirl

In his report on Wednesday, Xi made it very clear that China wanted to open up more but at its own pace. China is becoming more international but wants to shape the international rules of the game as much as possible. It is clear from the internet that China is a bit torn in this regard: The World Wide Web is censored but because of VPNs, which China tolerates, everything is accessible even though it's a bit slow during the party congress. China will not become more Maoist — that's clear. Mao isolated China except for some exceptions in Africa.

Xi's China will continue to play an increasingly important role in the world. It will become economically and politically stronger and do more to shape the rules of international relations. Mao could only dream of this.

But Xi will have to continue pushing through painful reforms in China in order to maintain its competitive status internationally. His treatment of the party, the media and civil society is not at all like Mao's. But he's keeping the reins tight. Resistance seems pointless.

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