In summary, Xi Jinping’s address to the 20th National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party reinforced Chinese ambitions to replace the United States as a global superpower. Xi Jinping’s remarks present possible national security risks through escalatory language towards Taiwan, expansion of the Belt and Road initiative, and extensive technological advancements.
The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is the ruling party of the Chinese government and has been in power for the last seven decades. The CCP has made public comments on countering “American hegemony” and its desire to become a global power. Every five years the CCP holds what is called the "National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party." Here the CCP recaps its successes, decides its future leadership, and lay out the goals of the party. This is an opportunity for the United States to gauge the ambitions and strength of the CCP.
In the 18th Congress held in 2012, the world was introduced to the new leader of the Chinese Communist Party Xi Jinping. Little was known at the time about his views on Chinese foreign policy as the party’s focuses were domestic development and the realization of “socialism with Chinese characteristics.” The 19th Congress in 2017 highlighted Xi Jinping’s global ambitions announcing a goal for China (PRC) to become a global leader in terms of comprehensive national power and international influence. The Congress also envisioned a modernized military and national defense system by the year 2035. During the conference, Xi Jinping secured his presidency for a second term, and then a year later the CCP’s constitution was amended abolishing presidential term limits, paving the path for a possible third term for Xi Jinping.
This month the Chinese Communist Party held its 20th congress. On the first day, Xi Jinping addressed the party’s leadership in which he highlighted the successes of the CCP in the last ten years under his leadership and reemphasized goals set in 2017. The key takeaways of Xi Jinping’s remarks include China’s (PRC) commitment to “reunify” with Taiwan (ROC), increase global influence, and continue technological advances.
Xi Jinping’s remarks about Taiwan were heavily anticipated. With the invasion of Ukraine by Russia and the increased rhetoric from Beijing, tension with Taiwan has risen. In 1949, the government of the Republic of China relocated to the Island of Taiwan as it fought a civil war with the Chinese Communist Party. Since then, the Republic of China (ROC) has had “de facto” control of the island while the communist party’s newly formed Peoples Republic of China (PRC) claims “de jure” control. Xi Jinping stressed that China (PRC) has a “strong determination and ability to safeguard national sovereignty and oppose Taiwan’s independence.” After insisting that the CCP strives for peaceful reunification, he ensured they will not rule out the use of force or any other measure deemed necessary. Alluding to visits of Nancy Pelosi and other US congressmen to Taiwan, Xi Jinping emphasized that the Taiwan issue is a Chinese issue and should remain free of any influence from external forces.
Xi Jinping’s tone towards Taiwan has become increasingly more demanding. Five years ago, during the 19th congress, Xi Jinping addressed the Taiwan issue by repeating the need for a peaceful reunification. Drawing upon the ethnic and cultural connections between Taiwan and mainland China, he used the term “blood is thicker than water” to describe Taiwan as part of the Chinese family. Fast forward five years and now it seems Beijing’s patience has finally worn off. Xi Jinping’s remarks indicate a new sense of urgency to reunify with Taiwan using force if necessary. His comments, paired with Taiwan’s refusal to Beijing’s rule, suggest a high probability of the usage of military force. With President Joe Biden having publicly committed military support to Taiwan, any Chinese military action would lead to direct conflict between the United States and China.
Chinese global influence has been the main goal of the Chinese Communist Party. The United States has long been recognized as the single-standing world power since the fall of the Soviet Union. China has longed to offset American power and influence in the international community, which was evident in Xi Jinping’s speech. The president stated, “We have taken a firm stance against hegemonism and power politics in all their forms.” This claim became the underlying theme for the duration of his speech. Xi Jinping wanted his people and the world to know that China is standing up against “American hegemony.”
One way in which China has begun to increase Chinese influence is through the Belt and Road initiative. This initiative was announced in 2013 by Xi Jinping with the intent of boosting trade, infrastructure, and investment ties between China and over 70 other countries. Xi Jinping promoted the project in his congressional speech saying, “The Belt and Road initiative has been welcomed by the international community and public corporations.”
This initiative poses a threat to the United States in two different ways. First, this economic network has placed China on a path to becoming the largest global economy. Second, it could force several countries into a financial dependency on China. The large loans given by the Chinese government open the recipient to Chinese influence especially when repayments falter. In both cases, the influence of the United States weakens. The economic influence of the United States consists of strong trade relations and the usage of the American dollar. These economic ties open countries up to American ideas of democracy and the free market. The threat of increased Chinese economic influence is the potential spread of “socialism with Chinese characteristics” which embodies Marxist ideals.
Another aspiration of communist China is to be the global leader in technological development. Jinping outlined the areas where China has made considerable advancements which include man space flight, Lunar/Mars exploration, deep sea/earth exploration, satellite communications, quantum information, and nuclear technologies. Xi Jinping asserts that these advancements have placed China among the ranks of the world’s top innovators.
This drive for technological advancement is connected to the Chinese desire for a modernized military. This was another theme emphasized in Xi Jinping’s speech. A technologically advanced military presents a direct threat to the national security of the United States and its foreign interests. The United States relies on the strength of its military to protect not only its sovereignty but its interests abroad. If China is enabled to surpass the United States in its military capacities this could embolden them to use military force as an instrument to further Chinese foreign interests. Any growth in a Chinese military presence would increase the risk of a US-China confrontation.