China’s secret plan to take over the world
That's quite an ambition.
The Party Congress is basically China's Parliament except that it only meets once every five years and only has one party. Think of it as Question Time but without any questions.
Perhaps unsurprisingly therefore, Xi Jinping's speech went for no less than three-and-a-half hours - which had several brave cadres looking at their watches but was at least mercifully brief compared to the speeches of Chairman Mao that went on for days.
Indeed, it is somewhat comforting to know that even in 2017 communists still love nothing more than incredibly long speeches and five-year plans.
Jiang Zemin checked his watch 10 times in Xi speech before I lost count 00:45, 01:25, 01.35, 01:40, 01:43, 01:50, 01:55, 01:59, 02:10, 02:19 pic.twitter.com/sAbhC1U9TC— Neil Connor (@neilaconnor) October 18, 2017
By way of perspective, I once went to a play at the Sydney Opera House in which the entire text of The Great Gatsby was read aloud and that took seven hours. In other words Xi's speech was half the length of a novel but with only a quarter of the character development.
It was also quite literally delivered quietly. Let's face it, when you're the supreme leader of 1.4 billion people everyone knows you're carrying a pretty big stick.
But carefully placed within those thousands of soft words is a clear message that will change the world as we know it today. And rest assured China wants us to hear it.
Firstly, it must be said that after scrambling through various international reports and struggling to find a complete English transcript, I could not find another version in which Xi used the words "a mighty force". But that is not necessarily surprising when you're looking for translations of a three-hour speech in Mandarin from a country where the government controls the media and internet freedom isn't, you know, "a thing".
Besides, I'm not Media Watch and that doesn't mean he didn't mean it. The truth is China is much smarter and subtler than that. When they do take over the world it will sound like a cross between an academic from Melbourne University and a hippie from Byron Bay.
"We will improve our capacity for engaging in international communication so as to tell China's stories well, present a true, multi-dimensional, and panoramic view of China, and enhance our country's cultural soft power."
That sounds cool man. In Australia you could probably get a grant for it.
And what is China's version of such artistic freedom? Helpfully Xi spells it out:
"Writers and artists should take a people-centred approach and draw inspiration from everyday life and the experiences of the people to produce works that do justice to our times. We encourage them to create fine works that are thought provoking and of a high artistic standard, that reflect real life, and that extol our Party, our country, our people, and our heroes."
In other words you are free to proclaim how great the Communist Party is. Can't wait for that opening night!
Ironically of course, much of this is itself theatre. Xi, who is president solely by virtue of being the General Secretary of the Communist Party, has to tick all the right boxes to get the applause from the home crowd - some 2300 top officials in the Great Hall. And Xi is certainly intelligent, worldly, economically progressive and zealously committed to wiping out corruption - no doubt especially among his rivals.
But it is unnerving that in a nation that is soon to become the most powerful in the world so much Orwellian doublespeak still exists.
One minute Xi says "the policy of 'one country, two systems' is the best solution to the questions of Hong Kong and Macao" but the next says "patriots should play 'the principal role' as the Hong Kong people govern Hong Kong and the Macao people govern Macao".
In other words, Hong Kong and Macao can govern themselves as long as those governors are pro-Beijing.
Confused? Here's another quote: "The governments and chief executives of both regions will be supported to advance democracy with well-ordered steps, maintain law and order, and fulfil the constitutional responsibility of safeguarding China's sovereignty, security, and development interests."
In other words, you are free to do whatever you want as long as it's what I tell you to.
All of this is what's called China's "dream" or "new era". And it's got the hippie-creepy thing down pat - combined with those impeccably synchronised military exercises we all love so well.
"It makes clear that the Party's goal of building a strong military in the new era is to build the people's forces into world-class forces that obey the Party's command, can fight and win, and maintain excellent conduct.
"It makes clear that major country diplomacy with Chinese characteristics aims to foster a new type of international relations and build a community with a shared future for mankind."
And if that wasn't creepy enough, central to this is what Xi calls "The Thought".
"It makes clear that the CPC leadership is defining feature of socialism with Chinese characteristics and the greatest strength of the system of socialism with Chinese characteristics; the Party is the highest force for political leadership. The Thought sets forth the general requirements for Party building in the new era and underlines the importance of political work in Party building."
To be fair, a lot of this is lost in translation and a lot of it is also just standard socialist gobbledygook. The question is just how much the Chinese leadership and how many of the Chinese people actually believe it.
The other troubling thing is that the Chinese probably have a window of about five years to 10 years to achieve world domination before they collapse under the weight of their own ageing population. And that is exactly the same window in which both America and the UK appear to have respectively shat their trousers and gone out to tea.
The truth is Xi is actually doing a pretty good job of cleaning up and opening up China to the rest of the world but that only works as long as the rest of the world is the norm. Everyone thinks communism fell with the Berlin Wall and yet seems to forget that the biggest and soon to be most powerful country on earth remains unabashedly communist apart from its commitment to capitalism. The only part missing is the democracy.
As the tectonic plates of global politics shift, it is worth asking do we want the world to be led by a nation whose guiding principle is this:
"We should not just mechanically copy the political systems of other countries. The CPC stresses the unity of Party leadership, the people running the country, and law-based governance. Party leadership is the fundamental guarantee for ensuring that the people run the country and governance in China is law-based; that the people run the country is an essential feature of socialist democracy; and law-based governance is the basic way for the Party to lead the people in governing the country. The system of people's congresses must be upheld and improved to ensure the people's exercise of state power."
"We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness."
Personally I'd prefer life, liberty and happiness over state power but I'll have to check with the wife.