22 February 2019
President Xi Jinping has shown a great appetite for power. He is trying to strip his fellow politburo members of their official duties one by one. Photo: Xinhua
President Xi Jinping has shown a great appetite for power. He is trying to strip his fellow politburo members of their official duties one by one. Photo: Xinhua

This is Xi Jinping’s notion of innovation

The fifth plenary session of the 18th Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party held from Oct. 26 to 29 in Beijing laid down the guiding principles for the 13th Five-Year Plan (135 Plan), under which the party, the state, or President Xi Jinping himself will further tighten his grip on the economy.

When it comes to President Xi’s most frequently used term in his speeches on national issues, it has to be “innovation”.

Speaking before the Central Committee during the plenary, Xi stressed that the party must “put innovation in the front and center of the overall development of the country” and that innovation includes “theoretical innovation, systemic innovation, technological innovation and cultural innovation”.

However, unlike in the West, where innovation is often spearheaded by the private sector, President Xi’s concept of innovation is state initiative.

He does not intend to motivate IT talent across the country to embark on more innovative projects and research.

According to the 135 Plan, innovation will be carried out in the form of large-scale high-tech projects coordinated and monitored by the state.

To be more precise, the military and big state enterprises will work hand in hand to carry out these projects.

It seems President Xi is following the old Soviet model and adopting the same approach to building his country as his idol, Chairman Mao, did.

Under this model, the development of the economy and national defense are fused together and the entire nation will be mobilized to achieve the party’s goals.

As he put it, the ultimate goal of the 135 Plan is “to serve the best interests of the state politically, economically, culturally, socially and militarily”.

These newly announced guidelines that set the tone for the 135 Plan seem to indicate that the so-called “Keqiangnomics”, which refers to the relatively liberal economic principles promoted by Premier Li Keqiang during his early days in office that emphasizes the key role of young and highly educated entrepreneurs in the course of economic development and technological advancement in the mainland, has been officially jettisoned by the party leadership.

Ever since Xi was promoted to the standing committee of the politburo in 2007, “promoting innovation” has been his catchphrase.

In an article published in the official party periodical Qiushi (Pursuit of the Truth) in 2008, Xi wrote that “only an innovative political party can stand the test of history” and urged the Communist Party to “promote innovation in its organization, in its leadership, in its operating mechanism and in the education of its cadets”.

One could easily have fallen under the impression that Xi is an open-minded leader given his repeated emphasis on innovation.

However, if we look closer, we will find that the facts suggest otherwise.

On one hand, President Xi is pledging to promote innovation in the party; on the other, however, he is calling on his fellow party members to preserve the purity and revolutionary tradition of the Communist Party and to stay vigilant against any conspiracy, domestic and foreign, to subvert the party.

He has also warned of attempts to start a “color revolution” within the party.

In other words, the goal of promoting innovation is to preserve the ruling status of the Communist Party and enable it to thrive into the future.

One might remember that it was Premier Wen Jiabao, rather than President Hu Jintao, who addressed the central committee on the 12th Five-Year Plan during the fifth plenary session of the 17th Central Committee five years ago.

Unfortunately, since incumbent Premier Li Keqiang has been pushed to the sidelines, it is obvious that he has no say in the 135 Plan.

And President Xi seems to have an unlimited appetite for power, working aggressively to strip other members of the politburo standing committee of their official duties one by one.

What Xi is doing is basically trying to get rid of the mechanism of collective leadership established by Deng Xiaoping in the 1980s and restore the one-man rule dictatorship as well as personality cult adopted by Chairman Mao.

What kind of innovation is that?

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Nov. 10.

Translation by Alan Lee

[Chinese version 中文版]

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Adjunct Professor, History Department, The Chinese University of Hong Kong

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