Curiously, the fifth plenary meeting of the 19th Central Committee of the Communist Party of China (CPC), did not confine itself to unveiling the customary five- year development plan that would end in 2027. Instead, it nailed 2035 as the iconic year, when China's rise to international greatness would have been fundamentally achieved. In the language of the Communique that was issued on October 29, China would achieve "socialist modernization" in a decade-and-a-half. Inlay man's lexicon, this would mean that China would have upstaged the United States as the world's biggest economy by that year.
The targeting of a 2035 timeline mirrors Xi's ambition to be remembered by history as a leading modernizer-a status that he would share with Mao Zedong-the patriarch of the People's Republic of China (PRC). Already Xi is the Party-state's core leader-a designation reserved for those who have steered China to safer shores during times of major turbulence and transitions. He has also centralized power by heading the Central Military Commission (CMC), the Presidency, apart from being at the helm of the CPC as its General Secretary.
Besides, he has consolidated his position through a relentless anti-corruption campaign that has rooted out rivals, apart from unleashing muscle-flexing in the region by a rapidly modernizing People's Liberation Army (PLA), which has been reorganized along with a modern theatre command system. In tune with China's brash assertiveness, Xi's hubristic mandarins have indulged in wolf-warrior diplomacy, threatening countries which do not abide by Beijing's diktat, with harsh disincentives. By citing 2035 as the benchmark, Xi has rewound by 15 years, the 2050 timetable to complete the process of China's rise that had been set by Deng Xiaoping, Mao's successor and the architect of China's economic reforms.
The Communique flaunts the CPC's vaulting ambitions under Xi. It points out that in the next 15 years, China will become a global leader in innovation; finish building a modernized economy, and its cultural soft power will grow much stronger.
The modernization of national defence and the military would also be basically achieved, in tune with the basic accomplishment of socialist modernization by 2035. It is now clear that the goal of scaling global heights of power by 2035 is not a bolt from the blue.
In fact, in October 2017, during his speech at the 19th party Congress, Xi without elaboration, had referred to 2035 as a point of reference, while spelling out his "two centenary" goals. During his marathon address, Xi had highlighted that the first centenary goal of making China a "moderately prosperous society" by eliminating all extreme poverty would be achieved by 2020. This would be timed with the centenary of the formation of the CPC in 2021.
China national "rejuvenation," when it would lead the world in all spheres of human endeavours would be achieved by 2049-the year marking the centenary of the formation of the PRC. But in his speech, he also underlined that China "will basically realize socialist modernization by 2035."
There have been voices within the CPC that have clarified Xi's ideological trajectory. Earlier this week, Li Junru, former vice president of the Party School of the CPC, clarified to Chinese state media that Deng's goal, set in the 1980s, to achieve modernization by 2050 can be advanced. Pointing to 2010, when China had become the world's second-largest economy, Li had stressed that, "This allows us to now have a very good foundation for the basic realization of modernization proposed by Deng Xiaoping 15 years ahead of schedule."He also clarified that the 15-year plan up to 2035 was "a major turning point" for China in pursuit of modernization. Besides, the new 2021-2025 five-year plan that had been unveiled at the plenum" should be comprehensively considered as part of the 15-year plan."
After the declaration of the 2035 plan, there are blaring signs that Xi is planning a lengthy tenure at the apex of CPC leadership, till the time when he is sure that his blueprint for China's rise can no longer be shredded. This has once again triggered speculation about timelines when Xi is likely to remain at the top of the CPC tree.
Ahead of the fifth plenum, Xi's close aides had started to float bullish takes on how many more years the leader may stay in power, Asia Nikkei reported. They point out that the question is not about whether Xi will stay in power between 2022-27, following the 20th party congress. Instead, the debate focuses on whether Xi will be in the saddle for the next 10 years, that is from 2022-2032, before hanging his boots?
Incidentally, in 2035, Xi will turn 83 -- the same age as Mao at the time of his death.