10/17/2022, 12.52
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Xi Jinping will get a third term after doing worse than his predecessors

by Emanuele Scimia

The Chinese leader opened the 20th Chinese Communist Party Congress yesterday. Slowing economic growth, mounting debt, youth unemployment and demographic decline: Xi offers many slogans and few solutions. The card of nationalism (and Taiwan) played to find a new glue between the regime and Chinese society.

Rome (AsiaNews) – Xi Jinping is on his way to an historic third term in power. He will rise above his most recent predecessors, although Hu Jintao and Jiang Zemin have done better than him, at least from the economic standpoint, which interests the Chinese most in order to accept the unchallenged leadership of the Communist Party (CCP).

The report on his second five-year term at the helm of the Party (and State), with which he opened the 20th CCP Congress yesterday, offered many slogans and few solutions to the problems currently facing the country. The meeting, which will close between 22 and 23 October, will trace a new geography of power in China, with Xi still at the helm.

Over teh next five years the Chinese president, and general secretary of the Party, envisions a national economy that offers opportunities and ensures a fair distribution of wealth. However, this year's GDP figures will be less than thrilling for the supreme leader and the population. The draconian zero-Covid policy, together with the crackdown on big tech companies and the real estate crisis will not allow the annual economic growth target of 5.5% to be reached (a slowdown around 3% is likely).

If, as emphasised these days, China has doubled its economy in the 10 years of Xi's leadership, in Jiang Zemin's decade (1993-2002) it more than tripled, while during Hu Jintao's double term (2003-2012) it grew almost sixfold. Like Xi, both leaders have had to deal with serious economic crises: Jiang faced the Asian financial crisis of 1997-1998; Hu the US mortgage crisis of 2007-2008.

Then there are the debts accumulated in the Xi era, especially by provincial governments. According to Reuters calculations, in the first eight months of 2022 the country's 31 provinces recorded a total deficit of 6.7 trillion yuan (960 billion euro).

The zeroing of absolute poverty boasted by Xi in 2021, 100 years after the founding of the CCP, was one of his primary goals. However, a study by the South China Morning Post reveals that as of last year 13% of the Chinese population was still in need.

There are also doubts about the veracity of the official statistics. Observers point out that local leaders often falsify the data, passing off family members and friends as poor so that they can obtain state subsidies. Premier Li Keqiang has often accused provincial leaders of presenting an unrealistic picture of the situation.

Xi speaks insistently of national 'renewal', but youth unemployment is hovering at a stable 20%: a problem not only for the many young graduates looking for work, but for those who will have to retire in the coming years.

This mix of economic slowdown and demographic decline is forcing Xi to find a new glue between the Party and Chinese society. Playing the nationalist card, with the feat of reconquering Taiwan, could offer him such an opportunity.

However, it remains a risky, 'unexplored' terrain for a regime that for decades has relied on the economic driver to ensure internal stability. Not to mention that the geopolitical turmoil created by Russia's invasion of Ukraine could present the "new Mao Zedong" with a challenge of no small consequence on its northern borders – a Russia in chaos and at risk of disintegration.

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