China’s top leaders are meeting behind closed doors in Beijing on Monday to map out their economic and political agenda for the next five years, as the ruling Communist Party looks to capitalize on its containment of the coronavirus epidemic.
President Xi Jinping, who also heads the Party, will join the members of the Central Committee, the Party’s top decision-making body, to formulate the 14th Five-Year Plan, the vast policy framework by which China will be governed from 2021 to 2025.
In an unusual step, the committee will also be drawing up a “vision” for 2035, a long-term plan for the year which Xi has set as a deadline for China to “basically achieve socialist modernization.”
The meeting is expected to last four days and little if any information will be released before it wraps up on Thursday, at which time the committee’s decisions are announced. The Central Committee is made up of more than 200 members who are selected by Party delegates at their National Congress every five years.
The gathering of top leaders comes as the United States counts down the days to its presidential election, with US President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden vying for votes amid a fast-worsening coronavirus pandemic that has so far dominated the race.
Richard McGregor, a senior fellow at the Lowy Institute in Sydney who focuses on the inner workings of China’s Communist Party, said that whoever wins the White House on November 3 will face a “massive economic repair job” in 2021, whereas in Beijing, the Chinese government’s work on rebuilding the economy was well underway.
“Compared to the US and Europe, China at the moment has an absolutely fantastic platform onto which they can build this new policy framework because they have Covid-19 under control,” said McGregor. “That gives them an enormous advantage.”
The fifth plenary session of the Central Committee has historically been used as an opportunity to discuss the country’s next Five Year plan. This year’s meeting, however, comes during a period of great global uncertainty, with many countries facing an looming economic and social upheaval.
The International Monetary Fund downgraded its forecast for the global economy in 2021 to 5.2% on October 13, amid expectations of a “long, uneven” recovery from the pandemic.
Since then, the US and Europe have seen new outbreaks of the coronavirus, leading governments to reimpose restrictions intended to halt the spread of the disease which has killed more than 1.1 million people worldwide.
In comparison, China, where the outbreak first emerged, has largely brought the virus under control inside its borders through targeted lockdowns and widespread testing, allowing life to return to normal in much of the country.
On October 18, the government announced that China’s economy had grown by 4.9% between July and September at a time when many other countries have seen output fall.
McGregor said that China’s next Five-Year Plan was likely to focus on furthering Xi’s push for “self-reliance,” an attempt by Beijing to limit its dependence on the US and other countries.
During a visit to Guangdong in October, Xi noted that China “must put the development of the country and the nation on the basis of our own strength, adhere to national self-esteem and self-confidence and unswervingly walk our own path.”
The Chinese leader and his top officials have been pushing for homegrown innovation and production for years, but with added urgency in the face of attempts by the Trump administration to limit the sales of US technology to Chinese companies.
China’s largest chipmaker, SMIC, announced in a filing to the Hong Kong Stock Exchange in October that its American supplier had been issued with letters by the US Commerce Department, warning of “restrictions” on the export of vital components.
McGregor said that Xi and the Central Committee would be looking to “set in concrete” a plan that limited the influence the US has over China’s economy and the damage which Washington can inflict.
“That may take some time, because China is still behind in some areas of technology, but they will be aiming to cement their lead in areas like 5G and artificial intelligence, and catch up in sectors like semiconductors,” he said.