The Chinese Communist Party convened the Fifth Plenum of its 19th Central Committee on October 26-29.1 In accordance with longstanding norms, the fifth of seven plenums every five years customarily signals changes in the Party leadership to be formalized at the full Party Congress to be held in the following year, evaluates progress during the current five-year national economic and social plan, and sets priorities to be adopted in the upcoming five-year plan.


While the offices of Party General Secretary and Chairman of the Central Military Commission have not been subject to term limits, the third title at the pinnacle of power, President of the People's Republic of China (??, which absent diplomatic protocol would be more properly translated as Chairman in the original Chinese) was subject to a limit of two five-year terms until 2018 when that provision was deleted from the national constitution, effectively allowing Xi Jinping to remain in office beyond the expiration of his second term in 2022. As the Plenum Communiqué did not signal the elevation of a successor, Xi can be expected to remain in office for at least a third term.

Domestic Policy

The Communiqué praised China's economic, social and environmental accomplishments during the 13th Five-Year Plan (2016-2020), albeit without reference to achieving the numerical economic growth target because of the disruption to the economy this year caused by COVID-19. The stability of the economy in face of the epidemic and disruptions in global trade, the latter referring to restrictions imposed by the United States and other countries on technology trade, was praised. Social and environmental accomplishments were particularly highlighted, particularly poverty alleviation including the extension of basic low-level medical insurance to the populace as a whole and improvements in pollution prevention and control.

The Fifth Plenum deliberated and adopted the Central Committee's Proposal of Formulation of the 14th Five-Year Plan (2021-2025) (14th Five-Year Plan) for National Economic and Social Development and the Long-Range Objectives Through the Year of 2035. Major social economic development goals of the 14th Five-Year Plan can be summarized as "Six News,"2 including: (a) making new achievements in sustainable and healthy economic development through significant improvement of quality and efficiency; continuing to optimize economic structure, strengthen the domestic market, upgrade and modernize the industrial base and supply chains; (b) taking new steps in reform and opening-up by making major progress in property rights system reform, improving the fair competition system and establishing a more sophisticated open economy; (c) making new improvements in social civilization by strengthening culture, education, talent development, sports, and health; (d) making new progress in ecological civilization by improving efficiency in the use of energy and natural resources, continuing to improve the ecological environment, transformation towards green production and lifestyle and reduction of emissions of major pollutants; (e) elevating people's wellbeing to a new level by further synchronizing people's income growth and economic growth and improving the multi-level social security system, healthcare system, and the equalization of basic public services; and (f) making new improvements in State governance through enhancing capability in public emergency response and natural disaster prevention.

Looking forward, the Communiqué addressed not only the broad direction of the 14th Five-Year Plan but also a medium and long-term plan through 2035 by which time China is to achieve socialist modernization. Such longer-term planning has been a feature of Xi's leadership including Made in China 2025 (announced 2015 to propel China to global technology leadership in stages by 2025, 2035 and 2049), China Standards 2035 (announced 2020 to make China a world leader in standards formulation by 2035), and most broadly a moderately prosperous society by 2020 and then a fully developed, rich and powerful nation by the centennial of Communist Party rule in 2049 (announced 2012). Particular stress was placed on science and technology development highlighting the determination to enhance China's self-sufficiency in key technologies and reduce its dependence on foreign technology, especially from the United States, while at the same time enhancing domestic demand pursuant to the "dual economy" concept adopted to cope with the downturn created by COVID-19 and especially restrictions on China's access to global markets and technology. The role of the market will be enhanced but tied to an enhanced role for the government and the vitality of market entities of different kinds, implicitly endorsing the role of state-owned enterprises. The long-term planning also requires speeding up the modernization of national defense and the army with emphasis on national security, technology innovation, use of talents and Party leadership.

Foreign Policy

While the Communiqué reiterated customary formulations on China's peaceful development and contributions to global stability, there was no sign of any relaxation on certain controversial policies. Priority was placed on the standard formulation of safeguarding sovereignty, national security and development interests. Modernization of national defense and military capability is to be accelerated. Emphasis was placed in particular on maintaining long-term stability and prosperity in Hong Kong and Macau while disregarding international concern about the crackdown on Hong Kong's autonomy, and intensified efforts with respect to the peaceful reunification of Taiwan without reference to the intensification of military pressure on Taiwan. On international economic cooperation, the Communiqué reiterated that China will continue to carry out high-level and large-scale opening-up policies to achieve mutual benefit by utilizing China's market advantages, promoting international trade and investment through the Belt and Road Initiative, and actively participating in the reform of global economic governance.

In sum, the Fifth Plenum indicates determination to continue to implement China's current policies with respect to economic and social development and reform as well as foreign policy while accelerating the pursuit of technological self-sufficiency where needed.




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