When members of the country’s ruling Communist Party extend Xi Jinping’s third term as general secretary at the Party’s 20th National Congress, he will upend Chinese political traditions, cementing his status as one of the world’s most powerful leaders — and challenging the United States to become the dominant superpower.
The conclave begins on Sunday and will last about a week.
Xi, 69, was elected China’s president in 2012. During his decade in power, he wielded enormous power both at home and abroad. He has centralized power and has relentlessly suppressed dissent. He has poured billions of dollars into international infrastructure projects and has aggressively pursued island building and militarization in the South China Sea.
According to World Bank data, when Xi became president, China’s economy was expanding at an annual rate of 7.9%. Since then, the country’s economic growth rate has slowed, eventually reaching a low of 2.2% in 2020. (largely due to the coronavirus pandemic). In 2021, China’s economy grew by 8.1%.
Overall, China’s GDP has more than doubled from around $8.5 trillion in 2012 to nearly $18 trillion in 2021. The United States is still the world’s largest economy, but for how long?
According to Stockholm International Peace Research Institute estimates, China spends more on its military than any other country, with the exception of the United States, which spends $801 billion in 2021. In 2017, China established its first overseas military base in Djibouti. The United States has 11 aircraft carriers at sea. China possesses two.
When Xi took office during President Barack Obama’s second term, tensions over trade and China’s land reclamation efforts in the South China Sea, where it has built militarized outposts on small islands claimed by other nations, heightened Americans’ negative views of China.
Relations improved under President Donald Trump, who lavished praise on Xi, before deteriorating over new trade tensions, China’s human rights record, and the spread of COVID-19 from its suspected origins in a Chinese market. According to Pew Research, a Washington policy institute, 40% of Americans had an unfavorable view of China in 2012. By 2022, this figure was 82%.
Since 2013, a year into Xi’s presidency, China has been working to end its one-child policy, which has limited population growth. Families can now have up to three children. A decade later, it has all but plateaued, with a 0.07% growth rate projected for 2021, indicating that China’s birth rate is now too low.
According to the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences, China’s population will soon begin to decline by about 1.1% per year, reducing the country’s 1.4 billion population to 587 million by 2100. Researchers believe that China’s economy will suffer as a result of slower population growth.
Human Rights Watch reported that the limited space for dissent in China a decade ago had all but vanished, noting that since Xi took power, “The Chinese government has decimated civil society, imprisoned numerous government critics, severely restricted free speech, and deployed mass surveillance technology to monitor and control citizens. Cultural persecution, arbitrary detention of a million Uyghurs and other Turkic Muslims, and other abuses committed by authorities since 2017 amount to crimes against humanity.”
China believes that investing in STEM graduates will help it become a world leader in technology innovation. During Xi’s reign, China has advanced from imitator to innovator in biotechnologies, finance, advanced computing, robotics, artificial intelligence, aerospace, cybersecurity, and other high-tech fields.
According to China’s Ministry of Education, enrollment in higher education has increased from 30% of those eligible in 2012 to nearly 60% by 2021. According to a 2021 study by Georgetown University’s Center for Security and Emerging Technology, Chinese STEM PhD graduates will outnumber their US counterparts by more than three-to-one by 2025, if international students are excluded from the US count.