With an eye on discerning any policy indications, the rest of the world is paying attention to the two speeches made by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) General Secretary Xi Jinping in the post-Party Congress period – first in early December 2012 and the second on late January 2013. Full texts of the two speeches have not so far been officially released in the People’s Republic of China (PRC); but their summaries are now in the public domain. The overseas Chinese language media have carried reports on the first speech, based on a report from a source with credentials in China and the state Chinese language media in the PRC have revealed features of the second speech.
The first ‘Southern Tour’ speech of Xi Jinping made early December 2012 appears to be important in the matter of understanding Xi Jinping’s outlook on the political and economic reforms in the country. It was under circulation within the party in the middle January 2012. The website www.dw.de, of 25 January 2013 and China Digital Times of 26 January 2013 carry an analysis in Chinese language, of the speech, done by Gao Yu, a Chinese journalist based in Beijing, a former employee of the China News Agency (Zhong Xin She) and Economics Weekly of China and a detainee for her participation in the 1989 students movement.
An important portion of the speech was devoted to answering the questions – Why did the Soviet Union disintegrate and what lessons the CCP can learn from the collapse of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU). Viewing that the main reason for the collapse was that “the ideals and beliefs had been shaken in the Soviet Union”, Xi Jinping in his speech, said, “In the end, the ruler’s flag over the city tower changed overnight. It’s a profound lesson for us! Dismissing the history of the Soviet Union and the CPSU, dismissing Lenin and Stalin, and dismissing everything else are to engage in historic nihilism, which confuses our thoughts and undermines the Party’s organizations on all levels.” Xi added in his speech that the lesson for China from the disintegration of the Soviet Union is that “we must stand firm on the Party’s leadership over the military”. He pointed out, “In the Soviet Union, the military was depoliticized, separated from the Party and nationalized and the party was disarmed. A few people tried to save the Soviet Union; they seized Gorbachev, but within days it was turned around again, because they didn’t have the instruments to exert power. Yeltsin gave a speech standing on a tank, but the military made no response, keeping so-called ‘neutrality.’ Finally, Gorbachev announced the disbandment of the CPSU. A big Party was gone just like that. Proportionally, the CPSU had more members than the CCP does, but nobody was man enough to stand up and resist”.
Reform was the other prominent theme in Xi Jinping’s ‘Southern Tour” speech. Xi said, “The essence of our reform lies in carrying out all round reform. I do not approve the view that under reform, certain areas will remain backward; in concrete terms, certain areas getting reformed and others not so, is not the issue. Certain areas may remain unaffected by reform, even for a long time, but it does not mean there should be no reform. Some define reform in terms of Western universal values; if Western political system is taken as norm for reform, our reform concept will get distorted. We should conduct reform under the path of Socialism with Chinese Characteristics. We are in the stage of primary stage of socialism. We should pay attention to both short term and long term goals. Following the important ideologies of Marxism, Leninism, Mao Zedong thought, Deng Xiaoping theory, “Three Represents” and the Scientific Development outlook, we should realize the greatest dream for renewal of the Chinese nation. “China dream” is indeed our ideal .Of course, all communists must cherish a higher ideal, i.e Communism”.
The available details of the second speech of the CCP General Secretary, delivered at a party Politburo Study session convened on 28 January 2013, look notable in assessing the likely foreign policy directions of Xi Jinping’s leadership. Xi said, “China will unswervingly pursue peaceful development, push forward joint development, maintain the multilateral trade system and participate in global economic governance. The PRC will never pursue its development at the cost of sacrificing interests of other countries. We will never benefit ourselves at others’ expense or do harm to any neighbor”. He at the same time emphasized, “We will never give up our legitimate rights and will never sacrifice our national core interests. No country should presume that we will engage in trade involving our core interests or that we will swallow the ‘bitter fruit’ of harming our sovereignty, security or development interests”. The Chinese leader added, “China is following a road of peaceful development and other countries should do the same. Only when all countries pursue a path of peaceful development, they can jointly develop and enjoy peaceful coexistence. We should spread our country’s strategic thinking of sticking to the road of peaceful development and guide the international community to properly understand and approach China’s development. Wartime atrocities in the past have made an indelible impression on the Chinese people, leading them to desire and cherish a peaceful and stable life. Turbulence is what the Chinese people are afraid of, stability is what they are after and world peace is what they are looking forward to. China has put forward the five principles of peaceful co-existence, established and carried out a peaceful and independent foreign policy, made a solemn commitment to never seek hegemony and expansion and emphasized that it will always remain a staunch force in safeguarding world peace. China will unswervingly adhere to these principles, policies and commitments”. Declaring that “China will strengthen its strategic thinking and enhance its capacity to make strategies ( Zeng Qiang Zhan Lue Ding Li ), Xi Jinping said that “ China will pursue the two ‘ double hundred’ goals of building a moderately prosperous society by 2021 ( the year marking 100th anniversary of founding the CCP) and building a prosperous, strong, democratic, culturally advanced, harmonious and modernised socialist country by 2049 “ (the year marking the 100th anniversary of founding the PRC ).
Xi Jinping’s focus in his “Southern Tour” speech on the need for the CCP to learn lessons from the Soviet collapse, especially on party exercising absolute control over the army, is not a new theme in China; the same has already been noticeable in the regime of his predecessor Hu Jintao and in the past also. A repetition by Xi would only go to imply that the party has still lot more to do in eradicating of ideological confusion prevailing within its ranks. Another point of interest is Xi Jinping’s call for ‘all round’ reform and his ‘non-approval’ of the reform policy of veteran leader Deng Xiaoping which justified certain areas to develop more quickly than others. Is Xi signaling a nuanced shift in China’s reform course directions?
How to interpret Xi Jinping’s second speech of 28 January 2013? To start with, a look at the comments which have appeared in the Western and Chinese media may be useful for analysis. The Western media have viewed the speech as ‘tough’ and connected it to the likely continuation of aggressive postures of the PRC on sovereignty issues under Xi Jinping’s leadership. On the other hand, the Chinese official press (for e.g Xinhua international and ‘The Global Times’ Chinese edition , both of 31 January 2013) have refuted such assessments . In the words of an influential Chinese scholar, Jin Canrong, a professor of international relations at Renmin University in Beijing, “ Xi only stated basic principles more clearly, appears more willing than his predecessors to show an assertive position on territorial issues, but Xi’s comments were with in the bounds of established Chinese policy”. Very interestingly, some authoritative Chinese assessments have detected signals towards some strategic restructuring on the part of China in Xi’s speech. For e.g as an evidence, an article of Global Times Chinese edition, also carried in the CCP theoretical journal ‘Qiu Shi’ ( 15 February 2013) , referred to the findings of Chinese scholars that Xi has laid dual stress in his speech to ‘ strategic thoughts’ ( Zhan Lue Si Wei) and to ‘ enhancing capacity to make strategies’ ( Zhan Lue Ding Li ). The pro-Beijing Hongkong paper Wen Wei Po (30 January 2013) has echoed the same opinion. Noting that the dual stress is being seen for the first time, the paper suggested that it could mark efforts of the new leadership to develop the needed ‘correct and restructured strategic thought’, in order to face the worsening the security environment in China’s neighborhood, more and more increasing diplomatic pressure from abroad and the growing global impact on the Chinese economy, all in last two years. This raises the question – Will Xi Jinping leadership make some course corrections in China’s present strategic outlook and if so, what will be their impact on the outside world?
For an impartial observer, Xi Jinping’s 28 January 2013 speech definitely has some importance, as the leader, through it, has presented aspects of his foreign policy vision for the first time since he assumed the office of CCP chief. It is at the same time clear that there are no signs in the speech towards any basic shift in China’s foreign policy, followed hitherto. The leader’s stress to ‘ no sacrifice on core interests’ is not new; ever since middle 2008, this principle is dominating the Chinese foreign policy and notably, finds a place in the adopted report at the 18th CCP congress , though there was no specific mention of ‘core interests’ in it. Views are appearing in China that Beijing can adopt a ‘really tough approach’ if external forces provoke the PRC, conveying a message in the present day context (Global Times, Chinese language editorial, 31 January 2013). The Hu Jintao regime faced a dilemma in balancing the country’s declared aim to develop diplomatic relations ensuring‘win-win’ international ties and the perceived strategic imperatives to protect the PRC’s ‘core interests’. All indications are that the Xi Jinping leadership will persist with the ‘core interests’- based foreign policy of the previous regime and as a result, the same dilemma is going to confront it.
( The writer, D.S.Rajan, is Director, Chennai Centre for China Studies, Chennai, India. Email: email@example.com)