Over the past five years, Xi Jinping has spoken of a “Chinese dream”, moved to legitimise it through a philosophy of Xi Jinping Thought and, now, at the 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China bundled it altogether into a promised “new era” for his country. This seems only reasonable given the power that Xi has accumulated in his first term and the even greater authority he is expected to gain after the Congress is over. Nearly 70% of the party’s central committee will be replaced by Xi. He has already carried out the most wide-sweeping purges of the Chinese military and diluted the considerable policy space once enjoyed by the provincial and municipal party units.
China is today the second largest economy in the world and easily the world’s number two power. Another several years of sustained economic growth will elevate it to superpower status. If Xi is able to firmly set his country on this track during a second five year term, elevating himself to the same rank as Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping may not be too much of a stretch.
However, this may not be as pre-determined as Beijing claims. China’s successful investment-based, export driven economic model has been running out of steam the past several years. Growth is being sustained by huge debt infusions that cannot be kept up forever. At the Congress and over the past five years, Xi has argued this has to change. But remarkably little has been accomplished in terms of structural reforms so far. One reason the Chinese leader has centralised authority back into the hands of Beijing was because Xi had to overcome powerful interests who opposed reforming the economy. He has also mobilised support by pushing a nationalist agenda which has included an aggressive foreign policy, especially when it comes to China’s territorial squabbles with Japan, Southeast Asia and, to an extent, India.
Xi has signalled that his second term will be more of the same, but with less words and more deeds. In that real economic reforms would produce a more prosperous and more stable China – and thus presumably a Middle Kingdom more at ease with the world — this would be welcome. However, if Xi continues to believe an assertive, unilateralist foreign policy must remain inherent to a new China, then countries like India will have no choice but to keep a wary eye that the Chinese dream does not mean sleepless nights for the rest of the world.