The Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) Resolution on its first 100-years of history cements “Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era” (习近平新时代中国特色社会主义 思想, Xi Jinping xin shidai Zhongguo tese shehuizhuyi sixiang) as the official ideology of China (CPC, November 11). A central premise of the document, which was adopted at the Sixth Plenum of the 19th CCP Central Committee held in Beijing last week, is that General Secretary Xi Jinping’s continued leadership is essential to consolidate the hard earned gains made by China over the last century (China Brief, November 12). The new historical account celebrates the Xi era as a time of triumph when the CCP and the Chinese people have “written the most magnificent epic in the thousands of years of the history of the nation” (People.cn, November 16). In a People’s Daily commentary, Xi observes that the CCP has always emphasized evaluating its history, and that a third resolution on party history is necessary to unify the nation in pursuit of “great new victories” (新的伟大胜利, xin de weida shengli) at this “critical juncture“ (People’s Daily, November 17). Achieving “new victories” alludes to the CCP’s second centenary goal of China becoming a “strong, democratic, civilized, harmonious, and modern socialist country” by 2049, i.e., a preeminent world power with a fully developed economy and control of Taiwan (CPC News, September 6, 2017).
The Resolution depicts the Xi era as the apex of a hundred-year long CCP drive to transform China in to “a thriving nation that stands tall and firm in the East” . However, Xi’s vision of a new Sino-centric era is imperiled by major geopolitical headwinds. The front page of Wednesday’s People’s Daily underscores the link between domestic political dynamics and international politics (see picture). Above the fold, the party mouthpiece trumpets the Resolution, while the bottom of the broadsheet features a picture of Xi and President Joe Biden in discussion at the US-China virtual summit (People’s Daily, November 17). Still, days after meeting with Xi, Biden stated that the US was seriously considering a diplomatic boycott of the 2022 Winter Olympics; a stark contrast to the robust US participation in the 2008 Summer Olympics, when President George W. Bush led the US delegation to Beijing (Axios, November 18). A lack of diplomatic representation from the US and potentially other major countries would diminish the domestic political value of the games to Xi and the CCP.
Under Xi, China has gone from cordial ties with most other major countries, to increasingly strained, if not outright contentious relations with the US, Europe, Japan, India, the UK, Australia, Canada, and others. None of these relationships will likely experience dramatic improvements soon, particularly as Beijing remains internationally isolated (both physically and diplomatically) due to its doctrinaire “zero-COVID” policy (SCMP, October 16). Notwithstanding the modest reduction in tensions that led to Monday’s XI-Biden meeting, US-China relations have gone from a mix of engagement and competition to outright strategic rivalry in half a decade. Even as China’s relations with the international community have deteriorated over the last several years, Xi has not recalibrated his foreign policy in any significant way (Foreign Affairs, October 6).
A Century of Striving to Overcome Foreign and Domestic Opposition
One difference between the original Chinese text of the Resolution on the Major Achievements and Historical Experience of the Party over the Past Century of Striving (中共中央关于党的百年奋斗重大成就和历史经验的决议, Zhonggong zhongyang guanyu dang de bainian fendou zhongdà chengjiu hé lìshǐ jīngyàn de juéyì) and the official translation is that the word – 奋斗(fendou), which means “to strive” or “to struggle”, is omitted from the title of the English version (People.cn, November, 16; Xinhua, November 16). Nevertheless, the term is invoked throughout the document, often in the context of China’s “century of striving” since the CCP’s founding in 1921. According to the Resolution, China’s path from subjugation to national rejuvenation occurred in four stages. Throughout this history, the CCP struggled against various sources of real and perceived opposition: residual feudal and capitalist forces, counterrevolutionary rightist and/or leftist elements, and hostile foreign powers. [The below list is derived from the full text of the Resolution on CCP history (People.cn, November, 16; Xinhua, November 16)].
Four Stages of CCP History
- 1921-1949: New Democratic Revolution (新民主主义革命, Xin minzhu zhuyi geming): After a civilizational nadir when China was reduced to a “ semi-colonial, semi-feudal society”, the CCP rids China of imperialist, feudal and bureaucratic-capitalist oppression, and achieves national liberation through victories in the 1927-1949 Civil War against “reactionary Guomindang forces” and the 1931-1945 “War of Resistance against Japanese Aggression” (China Brief, October 8).
- 1949-1978: Socialist Revolution and Construction (社会主义革命和推进社会主义建设, shehui zhuyi geming he tuijin shehui zhuyi jianshe): During this period, the CCP grapples with political, economic and military challenges as it seeks to foster conducive conditions for the internal development of socialism. The CCP eradicates what it perceives as the primary internal impediment to achieving this goal, which are the remnants of traditional Chinese, or “feudal” society. Externally, the CCP struggles to “oppose imperialism, hegemonism, colonialism, and racism” including in the 1950-1953 “War to Resist US Aggression and Aid Korea.” The Resolution acknowledges Mao’s mistakes, namely the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution. However, the chaos of the late Mao era is blamed on “counter-revolutionary cliques” led by opportunists who exploited Mao’s errors- PLA Marshall Lin Biao and Mao’s wife Jiang Qing. This era concludes with the CCP “smashing” Jiang and the Gang of Four, the coterie of leftist radicals who achieved prominence in the Cultural Revolution.
- 1978-2012: Reform, Opening Up, and Socialist Modernization (革开放和社会主义现代化建设, gaige kaifang he shehuizhuyi xiandaihua jianshe): From 1978 on, the party focuses on economic development as the primary means to boost China’s composite national strength. The resolution asserts the party overcame severe “political unrest” in 1989 (Tiananmen), which was encouraged by hostile foreign forces seeking to weaken China and divert it from the socialist path. Subsequently, the narrative asserts that the CCP successfully guided China through several financial crises and other economic shocks; several natural disasters, and the SARS epidemic.
- 2012- : New Era of Socialism with Chinese Characteristics (中国特色社会主义新时代 , zhongguo tese shehui zhuyi xin shidai) The onset of the current “New Era,” which coincides with Xi’s ascension to power, is defined by the re-assertion of party :centrality as the CCP strives to transform China into “a great modern socialist country that is prosperous, strong, democratic, culturally advanced, harmonious, and beautiful by the middle of the 21st century.” The Resolution identifies several impediments to achieving this goal. Foremost is the “principal contradiction” of uneven and unequal development, which the CCP vows to solve through “well-rounded human development” and continued pursuit of “common prosperity.” Another serious ill is corruption, which under previous periods of “lax and weak governance”, i.e., the Hu Jintao and Jiang Zemin administrations, infected the party and harmed its relationship with the public; but is now being rectified through Xi’s sweeping anti-corruption campaign. The Resolution commends Xi’s efforts to strengthen external and internal security, credits the CCP for taking a vigorous stand on Xinjiang, Tibet, and China’s “territorial waters”, and avers that “stability will be maintained in Hong Kong and Macao.” Finally, the Resolution reiterates that “resolving the Taiwan question and realizing China’s complete reunification is a historic mission and an unshakable commitment of the Party,” and forecasts that “reunification” is “certain to become a reality.”
China faces enormous domestic challenges that may yet obstruct the CCP’s quest for “national rejuvenation”: unsustainable debt levels, an aging population, environmental catastrophe, and energy insecurity; but Beijing’s growing international isolation is also a formidable obstacle to Xi’s ambitions. Despite Xi’s exhortation to “tell China’s story well” international frustrations with China are growing (Qiushi, June 2). A strident approach to international politics, and frequent gaps between Beijing’s rhetoric and its actions, have generated increasingly negative perceptions of China across much of the world. In East Asian and Western countries, which are both China’s primary economic partners and its main geopolitical competitors, perceptions of China are at historically unfavorable levels. Per a late 2020 Pew survey, 86% of people in Japan hold negative views of China as do 81% in Australia 75% in South Korea, 73% in the US, 71% in Germany, and 70% in France (Pew, October 6, 2020). In response to this external backlash, a “siege mentality” has taken hold in Beijing, which has only worsened due to the self-imposed isolation of China’s zero-COVID policy (The Australian, June 23, 2021).
The Resolution cites China’s goal of developing relations and boosting cooperation with other major countries. However, a survey of China’s relations with major countries reveals a tangle of strained ties. The once privileged relationship that Xi’s predecessors carefully cultivated with Washington through a series of routinized strategic and economic dialogues is in disarray. China’s growing assertiveness and military power has pushed Japan to grudgingly revise its post-war pacifist orthodoxy and rearm. Australia has abandoned any consideration of taking a middle road between China and the US. India, long a partner in China’s efforts to foster a multipolar world (e.g. through BRICS), has de-emphasized its non-alignment tradition and upgraded cooperation with its Quadrilateral Security Dialogue partners, the US, Japan and Australia. European states are reconsidering their stances on Taiwan, and aligning with Washington against Beijing on many issues. Even Russia, while still a strategic partner, has grown uneasy with China’s rapid development of new nuclear and other strategic weaponry, and encroachment into its traditional sphere of influence in Central Asia (China Brief, October 22). Finally, most of the leading Southeast Asian states, Indonesia, Vietnam, Malaysia, the Philippines, and Singapore, continue to hedge between China and the US to varying degrees.
Xi’s heavy-handed diplomacy has been especially damaging to cross-strait relations. His January 2019 “Letter to Taiwan Compatriots” explicitly linking One Country Two Systems with the 1992 consensus, the foundation of the more pro-China KMT party’s approach to cross-strait relations, proved disastrous for the KMT in Taiwan’s 2020 elections (State Council Taiwan Affairs Office, April 12, 2019). Xi’s statement was ill-timed as it preceded the eruption of mass protests in Hong Kong against the erosion of the city’s autonomy under One Country Two Systems.
It remains to be seen whether Xi will recalibrate Chinese foreign policy, and if so, what course a correction might take. One route would be to continue to pursue China’s core interests, but to adopt a less strident, more patient and tactful approach to international politics. This re-orientation would be a throwback to the “hide and bide” approach of Xi’s predecessors, Hu, Jiang and Deng, who sought to dial down geopolitical competition in order to focus on economic development. The opposite but perhaps more likely approach would be for China to double down on going it alone. Should Xi adopt this course, Beijing may seek to apply overwhelming strength to secure core interests such as Taiwan. Historically, rising powers that have gone this route have courted disaster by provoking balancing coalitions of disparate partners, which consolidate based on shared threat perceptions. Either way, for Xi, the path to completing China’s national rejuvenation is not immediately apparent, at least not in the international arena.
John S. Van Oudenaren is Editor-in-Chief of China Brief. For any comments, queries, or submissions, please reach out to him at: [email protected].
 This article refers to The Resolution of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China on the Major Achievements and Historical Experience of the Party over the Past Century of Striving, November 16, 2021, as the Resolution throughout. For the full text of the Resolution in Chinese see- People.cn, November, 16. For the official English translation see- Xinhua, November 16.