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The Chinese Communist Party is expected to announce a third term for President Xi Jinping, formally doing away with term limits for that office. In a major speech, Xi emphasized the need to become more adept at deploying China's military regularly and for the military to be prepared for major challenges. Christopher Johnson of China Strategies Group joined Nick Schifrin to discuss.
This weekend, China's President and Communist Party General Secretary Xi Jinping gave what is viewed as his most significant speech of the year.
He chronicled his achievements over the last decade and charted his vision for the country's future, all as the Communist Party appears set to hand him a third term and further cement his power.
Nick Schifrin has the story.
During the first day of the National Party Congress, General Secretary Xi Jinping stressed the importance of improving the standard of living for Chinese citizens and increasing self-reliance, especially on high-end technology.
He praised China's response to the COVID pandemic, which relies on massive widespread lockdowns, and Xi emphasized the need to become more adept at deploying China's military on a regular basis and for the military to be prepared for major challenges.
Xi Jinping, Chinese President (through translator):
We must be mindful of potential dangers, be prepared to deal with the worst-case scenarios, and be ready to withstand the major challenges of high winds, choppy waters and even dangerous storms.
And for more on Xi Jinping's speech and the Party Congress, we turned to Christopher Johnson, previously a China analyst at the CIA. He now runs his own consulting company, China Strategies Group.
Chris Johnson, welcome to the "NewsHour."
When Xi discusses worst-case scenarios,when he talks about headwinds, is he preparing China for a long-term confrontation with the United States?
Christopher Johnson, China Strategies Group:
And, in fact, I think he's telling us that he sees war with the United States as increasingly likely. And I think we see two aspects of this in the speech that he delivered to the Congress. The first is that longstanding phraseology in these work reports, where China judged that peace and economic development not only were the dominant global trend, but also would be an enduring one, are gone from this report.
And, instead, they have been replaced by what Xi Jinping called a spirit of struggle, which is clearly a throwback to the 1960s under Mao Zedong. The other way I think he's telegraphing that is that he's showing us that the economy is moving toward what we might call a fortress economy that is less dependent on the global order and less dependent upon the United States.
He talks a lot in the speech about self-sufficiency in technology. And that tells us that he's hardening that system for — in preparation for that possible coming war with the United States.
And he spent a lot of time on military modernization.
Is the vision not only perhaps some kind of regional war or confrontation with the United States over, say, Taiwan or the South China Sea, but a more global one?
Well, that's a great question.
And I think we see him through the defense reforms that he's been pushing in his second term and also through the type of weapons systems they're developing. They're undergoing a massive expansion of their nuclear force. They tested this hypersonic glide vehicle last year. All of those systems obviously are designed to threaten the U.S. mainland and homeland and to show that China is ready for a global contingency with the United States, if necessary.
The largest tension point, of course, between Beijing and Washington is Taiwan. It has been for a long time and is today.
Let's take a listen to what Xi said about Taiwan.
Xi Jinping (through translator):
Resolving the Taiwan issue is a matter for the Chinese, a matter that must be resolved by us Chinese people. We will continue to strive for a peaceful reunification with the greatest sincerity and the utmost effort.
But we will never promise to renounce the use of force. And we reserve the option of taking all measures necessary. This is directed only at interference by outside forces and the few separatists who seek Taiwan independence with their separatist activities.
Outside forces and those who seek Taiwan independence.
What message is Xi Jinping trying to send?
I think he's telling the United States primarily, stop messing around in the Taiwan issue and abide more tightly to the One China policy that has governed U.S. approach toward Taiwan since we reestablished diplomatic relations with China in the 1970s.
He's clearly saying to us, as long as we continue to have a One China policy in the United States, and Taiwan doesn't move toward independence, the Chinese actually see a potential military conflict with Taiwan as a crisis to be avoided, rather than an opportunity to be seized.
When it comes to domestic issues, he did not ease any of the COVID zero restrictions, which, to this day, continue to leave millions of Chinese people in lockdown.
And he reiterated his belief in a highly centralized economic control, even if that centralization leads to lower growth across the country. What does that say about his version of state control 10 years into his second term?
I think it tells us that he wants more state control and more centralization, whether it's in the economy and the COVID zero policy or any other policy across the board.
What we're seeing is a guy who believes fundamentally in Marxism, believes that communism is a system that can have its own successes internationally, and can defeat the United States and capitalism in the longer term.
About 10 days ago, the U.S. imposed its most sweeping export controls, trying to prevent China from purchasing high-end technology with any kind of U.S. factors inside that technology.
Xi Jinping today, as you have been discussing, talked about self-reliance. Can those export controls do what they're designed to do, which is set back China's military and keep the U.S. technological advantage?
Well, it can certainly slow them down.
And I think that's what the objective of the policies are. The key question, I think, for not only the United States government, but our companies, is that, if China eventually gets there on their own in terms of the ability to produce semiconductors — and, let's remember, wafer fabrication is not literal rocket science.
There are plenty of people out there who know how to do it. China will eventually gain this capability. And when they do, will it be a situation where our companies are left on the outside looking in, while other countries' semiconductor companies sell to China?
So there's a risk in trying to constrain China's growth for U.S. companies?
Absolutely, because as the risk that you run is that, what if we're partially successful in slowing them down, but they double and triple down and all these other areas of high technology, artificial intelligence, quantum computing, and so on?
If they're successful there and wind up in front of us in those key technologies, where the race is still very much at hand, we could have a situation where we're suddenly behind them.
Xi Jinping is the most powerful Chinese leader since Mao.
Has he taken even more steps in this Congress to try and erase the most powerful Chinese leader that was between Xi and Mao, Deng Xiaoping, and his reform?
In foreign the policy arena, Deng's theory was always, China should keep a low profile and not raise its head internationally. Xi Jinping says, China already is a superpower and it's time for it to start acting like one on the global stage. And that's a massive diminution of Deng's role and an effort to create a direct line between Mao Zedong and himself as China's unparalleled top leader.
And, of course, that is what we expect next weekend, Xi Jinping being granted that third term.
Chris Johnson of the China Strategies Group, thank you very much.
Watch the Full Episode
Nick Schifrin is the foreign affairs and defense correspondent for PBS NewsHour, based in Washington, D.C. He leads NewsHour's foreign reporting and has created week-long, in-depth series for NewsHour from China, Russia, Ukraine, Nigeria, Egypt, Kenya, Cuba, Mexico, and the Baltics. The PBS NewsHour series "Inside Putin's Russia" won a 2018 Peabody Award and the National Press Club's Edwin M. Hood Award for Diplomatic Correspondence. In November 2020, Schifrin received the American Academy of Diplomacy’s Arthur Ross Media Award for Distinguished Reporting and Analysis of Foreign Affairs.
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