China puts focus on development agenda amid ‘new challenges and conflicts’

William Zheng
·5-min read

China can overcome challenges brought by an uncertain external environment by focusing on its development agenda, putting more emphasis on high-quality growth and investing in technology and innovation, Beijing said in documents released on Tuesday.

State media published the full text of a development proposal for the next five years adopted by the Communist Party’s Central Committee and a report delivered by President Xi Jinping at a plenary meeting of the committee last week.

The proposal – a summary of China’s 14th five-year plan to 2025 – said that while China faced “profound and complex changes in its development environment” it had “attained decisive achievements in securing a victory in building a moderately prosperous society in all respects”.

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In the report, Xi said China would officially declare it had achieved the goal of turning the country into a moderately prosperous society in the first half of 2021 after a systemic assessment.

The documents were published on the eve of the US presidential election. Chinese officials have refrained from commenting on the race between President Donald Trump and Democratic challenger Joe Biden in recent weeks but called on the US to abandon its “Cold War mentality” and return to dialogue to repair strained ties between the two countries.

While the proposal and Xi’s report made no references to the US and bilateral relations, both stressed that China must keep a clear mind as the world faced the “most profound changes in a century”.

“[We] must be keenly aware of the new challenges and conflicts brought by a highly complicated international environment, improve our sense of crisis and opportunity, and be aware of the condition that [we are still] at the early stage of the development of socialism,” the proposal said.

In his report, Xi said China’s economic size and living standards would catch up with other advanced economies in the next five years, despite heightened external risks.

“Various contradictions and risks are prone to occur in our country in the current and future period,” he said. “Various predictable and unpredictable risk factors have increased significantly.”

He also said globalisation had been undermined and, without naming the US, that “some countries have promoted unilateralism and protectionism, and the traditional international circulation has been weakened”.

The coronavirus pandemic also has a profound effect, and world economic growth will remain sluggish,” he said.

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Xi said it was “entirely possible” for the economy to maintain stable development over the long term, and that China would reach “current high-income country standards” by 2025. “[We will] double [China’s] total economic size or per capita income by 2035,” he said.

But neither document set an economic growth target, instead stressing the importance of quality growth and optimising the country’s economic structure.

The focus was also on strengthening technological innovation, upgrading industries and supply chains, and developing the domestic market to drive growth – but at the same time embracing international business and trade.

And in uncertain times, Xi urged party cadres to pay more attention to the nation’s security.

“We must persist in coordinating development and security, increase awareness of opportunities and risks, establish bottom-line thinking, estimate difficulties more fully, think more deeply about risks, and focus on plugging loopholes, strengthening our weaknesses,” Xi said in the report.

The development plan also stressed the need to “resolutely safeguard” state power, the socialist system and ideology. “[We should] strictly prevent and crack down on the infiltration, sabotage, subversion and separatist activities of hostile forces,” it said.

China aims to build a “fully modern army” by 2027. Photo: Xinhua
China aims to build a “fully modern army” by 2027. Photo: Xinhua

It also gave new details of China’s plan to modernise its army by 2027. “[We must] strengthen strategic and combat forces in new areas, build a high-level strategic deterrence and joint combat system … accelerate the modernisation of weapons and equipment, focus on independent and original innovation in national defence, science and technology, accelerate the development of strategic frontier disruptive technologies, and accelerate the upgrading of weapons and equipment and the development of intelligent weapons and equipment,” it said.

China must also advance its social and cultural development to “become a strong country in culture, education, talent, sports and health”, the proposal said. “China’s cultural soft power will grow much stronger.”

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Wang Yiwei, an international relations professor at Renmin University of China in Beijing, said it was a plan to counter increasing global uncertainties.

“The chaotic situation in the US will have a grave impact on bilateral cooperation and pose challenges for global issues such as climate change. China needs to be the certain and the stable one and stick to established policies,” Wang said.

“The traditional global system has failed to take into account new emerging powers and has been bogged down with crises such as the coronavirus pandemic and security. During the transition to a new era, we face external risks that are beyond our control. [China] has to make great efforts to achieve its development targets,” he said.

Deng Yuwen, former deputy editor of Study Times, a newspaper affiliated with the party’s top academy, said the documents underscored “the stability of the party leadership and a further strengthening of Xi’s position, indicating China’s system of governance will not change much in the next five years”.

“There was a lot of speculation before the plenum about personnel changes insinuating some kind of power struggle within the leadership. These have now been proven unfounded,” Deng said. “With the coronavirus pandemic under control in China, the confrontation between China, the US and the West will only make it easier for Xi to strengthen his grip on power.”

Additional reporting by Wendy Wu

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