With 2952 votes in favor and none against – a majority hard to obtain in many elective systems, Xi Jinping has been re-elected President of the People's Republic of China for a new important mandate of another 5 years. He has also been confirmed as the head of the Central Military Commission, the country’s political body in charge with the armed forces.
With his third term, which also includes the role of General Secretary of the Communist Party, Xi has been considered by some analysts as the most powerful Chinese leader since Mao Zedong.
According to China experts, Xi formed a team with close political representatives who are sharing his way of thinking and internal and foreign desired targets. Zhao Leji, former head of the Central Commission for Disciplinary Inspection, was unanimously elected President of the National People's Congress; Li Qiang has been elected Premier and Han Zheng Vice-Premier. It appears that President Xi managed to obtain the consent of the Chinese decisive institutions for both his internal and foreign policy.
President Xi Jinping was reelected under very complex international situation, being characterized by the war in Ukraine, fear of complications and exploding new conflict areas, intense power struggle, a dangerous tendency of militarization, evolving of a new world political and strategic structure with additional regional and medium powers and having his country involved in a tense relationship with its main rival, the United States of America, Washington itself being engaged in a process of consolidation of its internationally recognized image and force as single superpower.
Analyzing the public international reactions on the new mandate of the President of China, one could get to the conclusion that the Asian, African and other countries in the Global South have been more publicly outspoken. In several cases, their congratulatory messages were full of positive appreciations and expectations expressed more flamboyantly than the usual protocol content of such an exercise.
The Prime Minister of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, Shahbaz Sharif, referred – for instance – to Xi's “visionary leadership”, a catchphrase usually encountered in Beijing’s Party-speech, less in the high-level dignitaries’ congratulatory messages. Sharif added that “China and the great Chinese nation have made great achievements in the development of human causes”, hence hinting at the world great power status China seems ready to display.
In the same vein, Hun Sen, Prime Minister of Cambodia, stressed that “Cambodia is willing to work with China to build a Cambodia-China community with a shared future”. “Community with a shared future” is another catch-phrase normally used by Beijing’s narrative to stress China’s own vision of the world, which distinguishes from other alternative views, such as, for instance, “rules-based order”, a catchphrase normally used by Western countries to express their own narrative.
The President of the Russian Federation, Vladimir Putin, expressed his wish to “continue to coordinate joint work on the most important regional and international issues”, thus appealing both at the “no-limits partnerships” between the two countries and the complex international issues Russia is currently facing.
Indeed, the specifics of such messages stress the particularly high level of partnership between China and several other countries in the region. On the other hand, leaders of countries such as Japan, Republic of Korea or Singapore limited the content of their congratulatory messages to a more standard shape.
In this regard, the messages could be interpreted as a good indicator of the closeness between China and the countries in Asia. In fact, when it comes to Asian countries, China is consistently economically interconnected with and it might be said that it enjoys as well a capital of political clout.
Part of Mao’s former “Three Worlds” theory, currently integrated in China’s “Global South” narrative, the Asian countries clearly have a special place in Xi’s third mandate foreign policy objectives. Of course, Asia is not entirely free of any contentious matters, such as Taiwan and the South China Sea – inter alia, especially regarding maritime claims and territorial disputes. While all sides seem willing to avoid direct confrontation, constant side-playing could lead to an accident with unintended consequences.
Obviously, both the congratulatory messages received and those still pending might well serve as indicators for the novel directions in China's future bilateral relations and partnerships.
Most probably, for the EU and US leaders, Xi’s third mandate leaves multiple questions unanswered.It could, as well, be inferred that both EU and the US seek dialogue with China in order to fully calibrate their positions – and views – on Xi’s third mandate.
Such a calibration would probably take into account Beijing’s new goal of projecting its great power status. It is expected that, in the next five years, China would intend to fulfill new stages in her long-time plan towards getting the role of world superpower both from economic and strategic points of view.
According to regional and international experts, firstly, China’s success will be measured by its internal achievements and ability to evade the critical or less positive international measures and reactions, which this country seems growingly confined to and by managing the effects of these dynamics on its economic exchanges with other countries. Particularly in the technological and industrial fields, the re-dimensioning of global supply chains (also known as decoupling, re-shoring and friend-shoring) may bear harsh effects on China’s imports and exports.
Similarly, there is a regional security component that may aim at counteracting China’s projection of military power, such as the QUAD(which sees the USA, India, Japan and Australia together) or the AUKUS(Australia, USA, United Kingdom). The Chinese narrative is known to be critical of “forming cliques”, a stark reference to such dialogue formats.
On the other hand, the “Free and Open Indo-Pacific” or the “rules-based international order” seem to have become the catchphrase for many Western and Asia-Pacific leaders and top-level diplomats, showcasing that there is a real concern for China’s possible military power projection in the region and even in the world, concern partly fueled by the constant rise in the country’s military budget in the past years.
The competition-based approach of the US along with its partners and allies in the Indo-Pacific seems to be reciprocated by Europe, having already experienced the vulnerability of dependence on the Russian energy and unwilling to take similar chances with another actor.
In this regard, President Xi may prioritize rebuilding alternative political networks circumventing both US and EU, in which China plays a key role. Older Chinese initiatives, such as BRICS, and older policy key-words, such as Global South, have regained strength in 2022. One may expect for the coming years Chinese direct industrial investments in creating supply chains inextricably linked to Beijing.
The chip sets shortage, for instance, has strongly affected the Chinese economy and, shall the decoupling of supply chains continue to an even deeper level, Beijing may find itself in the situation where its current supply possibilities will not cover its industrial needs. Moreover, as some of its technologies – such as 5G – are met with certain reservations in the West, China may increase its reliability on the markets of the Global South. It is yet to be seen whether such economic decoupling and recalibration of China’s supply chains will be entirely based on the free-market rules or rather doubled by Beijing’s political capital in developing countries. One could infer that China’s new supply chains would be doubled by excellent political cooperation, already visible with countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America.
The economic relationship between China and the West could be another grand theme of Xi’s third mandate. In other words, all political things being considered, is it possible that a China that lately grows less – which will most likely hamper the previous known high and speed development rate – could still be interesting for the Western companies? Or, shall this not be the case, will China face an exodus of these Western companies? Moreover, amid re-calibrating its national economy and a generally worsening international environment, China may not be able to sustain its competition with the United States based on its economic relations with the Global South only. In other words, in order to stay internationally competitive, China needs to be more convincing to Europe. Ceteris paribus, Europe’s degree of Strategic Autonomy will be one of the most important factors in this regard. However, provided the Russian war of aggression against Ukraine, one may expect a European Union with a closer view to its allies, which, in turn, may not work exactly in China’s favour.
It is for these reasons why, on a political level, China may be aiming at better understanding the mechanics between the United States and European Union decision making process. In other words, more autonomy in the European capacity to uphold democratic values and process may offer more leeway for China, not only in matters of economic but also political cooperation alike. In this case, one may assume that a certain level of European inter-dependence with China might be a priority for Beijing, at least in the next five years. On the other hand, it is yet not clear whether more interdependence between Europe and China could foster a more mature relationship or could create further frustrations on long term.
Equally important for Xi will be pushing for a bigger role to be played by China in the international arena, a tendency put already into practice after days of his re-election. China’s recent success of brokering a deal to re-establish diplomatic ties between Iran and Saudi Arabia is undoubtedly a significant step in this direction, with positive consequences for the Middle East and not only. China displayed active engagement in brokering a similar pact between the Russian Federation and Ukraine. One could not deny that a Russia-Ukraine peace brokered by China would immensely add to Beijing’s capital as a truly influential great power. Shall it be able to reach such a pact and – at least – freeze the current war of aggression, China would gain an immense capital of international trust, which, certainly, will be in correlation and dependence equation with its proclaimed credo as a staunch supporter of sovereignty and sovereign equality of nations.
As President Xi’s third mandate came as no surprise for many, everything suggests that the current Chinese leader is planning to keep the helm of the country for a long time to come.
The opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the official policy, position or view of IRSEA.