Economy

Partying on

Xi’s centenary speech delivers a key message

Centennial-w

100 years and counting...

The Communist Party of China (CPC) announced this week that its membership had topped 95 million as of June 5.

In 1921 the CPC had about 50 members. Only 13, including Mao Zedong and two non-Chinese from the Russia-sponsored Comintern, turned up that year for a ‘national’ Party congress that marked its founding (see WiC380).

Fifteen years later Mao told American journalist Edgar Snow that he went to Shanghai in ‘May 1921’ to attend the inaugural congress. He was in fact talking in terms of the lunar calendar, later CPC historians have suggested. It was only more recently these historians confirmed the actual date of the meeting as July 23 – although Mao himself had later decided his Party should celebrate its founding on July 1.

So this Thursday the CPC celebrated its 100th anniversary (based on Mao’s preferred chronology).

What were the key messages that the world’s biggest political Party wanted to deliver on its big day?

First, China has achieved the Party’s centenary goal of building “a moderately prosperous society”, Chinese leader Xi Jinping said yesterday in a keynote speech delivered in Tiananmen Square above a portrait of Mao. China will now work on the second centenary goal (set for 2049) of building “a great modern socialist country”, when the People’s Republic of China celebrates the 100th anniversary of the Party taking power in 1949, Xi added.

The fight against poverty has been the main theme used by Xi’s administration to measure its success in terms of the ‘moderately prosperous’ goal. Hence the propaganda push last year claiming that the Party had eliminated ‘extreme poverty’ in the country (see WiC521).

Unity has long been a traditional value for the Chinese. That’s why family reunions are such a focus in important local festivals. As such, national unity, aka the reunification with Taiwan into ‘one China’, will be a key parameter in deciding if China is indeed a ‘great modern socialist country’ when the 2049 centenary comes up.

No wonder then that Xi’s remarks about Taiwan yesterday are being viewed as a declaration of intent. “Resolving the Taiwan question and the complete reunification of the motherland is an unswerving historical mission and commitment of the CPC,” he proclaimed. “We must take resolute action to utterly defeat any attempt toward Taiwan independence.”

The remarks drew the loudest and longest applause from a massive audience listening to Xi speak from a VIP-heavy terrace atop Beijing’s Gate of Heavenly Peace. The crowd was preselected but their cheers were more than likely genuine: China observers have long suggested that the reunification of Taiwan is the one policy goal that has consistently commanded the strongest public support across the mainland.

Across the Taiwan Strait on the self-ruling island many disagree. In response to Xi’s centenary speech, the government in Taipei said that while the CPC had achieved “certain economic development”, it was still a dictatorship that trampled on the freedoms of its people, and that it should embrace democracy instead.

Returning to Xi’s landmark speech, he yesterday insisted that the Chinese nation does not carry any “aggressive or hegemonic traits in its genes”. However, Beijing has not ruled out unification with Taiwan by force and in the same oration Xi also warned that his country will never submit to bullying or subjugation from foreign forces (helping Taiwan militarily would fall into this category). “Anyone who would attempt to do so will find themselves on a collision course with a great wall of steel forged by over 1.4 billion Chinese people,” warned Xi.

It’s believed that the Taiwan Strait was closest to a full-blown war 25 years ago. Countries including Japan made preparations to bring home their nationals when the People’s Liberation Army fired missiles into waters near Taiwan. Beijing ultimately refrained from an invasion.

Should a similar crisis break out in the next 30 years, Beijing’s leadership will be in a very different position both militarily and economically – vastly stronger in both cases than in 1996 – and that could impact their decision on the potential costs and risks of going to war. And if Xi’s timetable is to be believed, something has to give in the next 28 years before the next ‘big’ centenary is celebrated.


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