1. A party under siege
There’s really just one story in China today.
ICYMI: For those living under a rock, today is the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Chinese Communist Party.
To celebrate, Xi Jinping did what he does best – he pontificated on the greatness of the Party for over an hour.
From the Gate of Heavenly Peace, Xi addressed over 70,000 people in Tiananmen Square.
Xi had a lot to celebrate:
- Over the past century, the Party has evolved from a ragtag group of 13 young men to the largest political party in the world, now numbering over 95 million.
- Over the past 40 years, it has seen economic growth unprecedented in size and scale; hundreds of millions have been lifted out of poverty; and the Party now rules over the world’s second-largest economy.
Despite the Party’s apparent strength and success, Xi painted a picture of a Party under siege.
Here’s a typical line (Xinhua):
- “Xi Jinping…said Thursday that any attempt to divide the Party from the Chinese people or to set the people against the Party is bound to fail.”
Get smart: The politics of grievance runs deep in the Party’s DNA.
What that means: China will continue to be a prickly customer on the world stage. That means elevated geopolitical risks are here to stay.
2. Xi the populist
The Party thrives on the politics of grievance.
- And so do the Chinese people.
Xi’s speech on Thursday morning received polite applause throughout.
But a few lines prompted full-throated cheers of support.
This line arguably roused the loudest cheers:
- “The Chinese people will never allow any foreign force to bully, oppress, or subjugate us.”
- “Anyone who would attempt to do so will find themselves on a collision course with a great wall of steel forged by over 1.4 billion Chinese people.”
Here’s another crowd pleaser:
- “No one should underestimate the strong determination, will and ability of the Chinese people to defend national sovereignty and territorial integrity!”
One more, just for fun:
- “We will not…accept sanctimonious preaching from those who feel they have the right to lecture us.”
Get smart: These messages resonate far beyond the faithful gathered in Tiananmen Square on Thursday.
- The vast majority of Chinese citizens are keen for the Party to be more assertive in standing up to “hostile” foreign countries – particularly the US.
Get smarter: Xi is eager to leverage the narrative of an embattled China to consolidate his leadership and push forward his political project. As long as he remains in power, the politics of grievance will be a fixture in China.
3. Knock knock, Hu’s there!
Yesterday, we told you to keep an eye on whether former CCP General Secretaries Hu Jintao and Jiang Zemin attended the Party’s 100th anniversary festivities.
Some context: The two former leaders, along with their respective premiers Wen Jiabao and Zhu Rongji, were notably absent from a song-and-dance extravaganza held at the Bird’s Nest stadium on Monday.
The verdict: Hu and Wen were there, but Jiang and Zhu were not.
During the ceremony, Xi thanked Hu and Jiang for their contributions to the nation, saying (SCMP):
- “We express our highest respect to them.”
So what does it mean that Jiang and Zhu weren’t there?
- Probably not much. The two former leaders are both in their 90s.
- Jiang is rumored to be in poor health and Zhu rarely makes public appearances.
At the same time, Jiang’s effective passing from the political stage is significant:
- For most of Xi’s tenure, the Jiang-affiliated “Shanghai clique” was one of the only alternate centers of power within the Party.
- Jiang’s frailty marks the waning of the clique’s influence.
Get smart: As the CCP turns 100, Xi Jinping’s position within the Party is well-nigh unassailable.
4. Quality over quantity
On June 30, the Party released its annual census.
Some context: The Party census provides information on the size and composition of Party members.
- It’s a good opportunity to take the temperature on the popularity of the CCP and to try to gauge where the Party is heading.
The Party is getting bigger:
- Between the end of 2019 and mid-2021, the Party grew by a whopping 3.5% – putting its membership at a cool 95.1 million.
- That’s up significantly from an average yearly growth of around 1% since Xi came to power in 2012.
- 52.0% of members now have (at least) an undergraduate degree – up from 50.7% in 2019 and 40% in 2012.
Get smart: The educational level of Party members is well above the general population – only around 15% of whom have a college degree.
- Put simply, the Party is an elite party, not a populist one.
Get smarter: The barrage of new members over the past 18 months can be attributed to the propaganda push around the Party’s centenary this year.
The bigger picture: During his reign, Xi has purposefully slowed membership growth in an effort to improve the quality of Party members.
- We expect growth to continue at around the 1% mark in the years to come.
5. Shenzhen plans groundbreaking local rules for AI development
On Tuesday, the Shenzhen Municipal People’s Congress Standing Committee introduced the “Shenzhen Special Economic Zone Artificial Intelligence Industry Promotion Regulations (Draft).”
- The first-of-their-kind local rules are slated for debate next week.
Some context: Last October, Shenzhen was given greater autonomy to draft legislation in emerging industries.
- Local policymakers are now pushing out a series of experimental regulations on data, smart cars, and AI.
The draft will serve to lay some foundational groundwork for AI development (SZ News):
- The draft regs “define artificial intelligence from a technical perspective, and clarify the boundaries of the artificial intelligence industry.”
According to the government announcement and media reports, the draft covers a lot of ground. It aims to:
- Establish AI industry standards
- Fast track commercialization of AI products and services
- Require government and SOE procurement to prioritize purchase of AI products and services
- Improve AI industry access to big data sets for use in AI development
- Prioritize the development of AI healthcare applications, including through small-scale trials
- Establish an AI ethics committee
This is largely uncharted territory for China (SZNews):
- “At present, the legal and academic circles do not have a unified understanding of artificial intelligence and its industrial definition.”
Get smart: AI ethics is likely to become the next battleground for China vs. Western values.
- How Shenzhen tackles those sticky issues will serve as a bellwether for how China may approach AI overall.