Date: 30 October 2020
Author: Paweł Paszak

Fifth Plenary Session of 19th CPC Central Committee and the Dreams of a Technological Superpower

On October 29, the 19th Central Committee of the Communist Party of China (CPC) concluded its fifth plenary session, one of the most significant political events in the PRC. As a result of the session, proposals concerning the main assumptions of the Five-Year Plan (2021-2025) in addition to the Long-term Social and Economic Development Objectives through 2035 were adopted. The central point of the Thursday’s announcement was the economic transformation of the PRC and high-quality development based on innovation, technological self-sufficiency, renewable energy sources and efficient allocation of resources. Unlike in the first decades of the Chinese transformation, the goal is no longer growth as such, but one that takes into account environmental factors and the growing aspirations of the Chinese middle-class. The framework and directions set by the plenary are a response to the escalation of tensions in relations with the USA, the worsening image of China in the developed democratic countries and a number of structural domestic challenges.


The results of the proceedings are mostly a continuation of the directions of the initiated five-year plans covering the period between 2011 and 2020 as well as the announcements made during the session of the National People’s Congress (NPC) in May. One of the key concepts expected to be the basis for formulating more concrete sectoral policies is the “dual circulation” strategy, promoted personally by Xi Jinping. It stresses the need to increase the role of the domestic market and consumption, which should become the main driving force of the Chinese economy. Foreign markets and investors are to be the secondary, complementary pillar of economic growth and technological development. These actions are in line with the aspiration to achieve “self-sufficiency” in the areas of advanced technologies, energy and food due to the increasingly difficult international situation.

The image of China as a consequence of Xi Jinping’s policy and the pandemic has clearly deteriorated. According to a survey by Pew Research Center published in early October 2020, in the majority of the developed countries, more than 70% of all respondents declared a negative attitude to the PRC. China’s continued growth is seen in Washington as a threat to the security and “mild hegemony” of the United States. Sanctions against Chinese companies, aimed at cutting them off from the most advanced microprocessors and software, are one of many examples of ongoing rivalry between the two countries. For the EU, China’s further growth is acceptable provided a “level playing field” and “reciprocity” are established in the treatment of European companies. Nevertheless, China’s advancement in global value chains means an increasing competition for the Western European economies, which will face severe consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic. At the same time, the authoritarian political system of the PRC and the issue of human rights violations cause China to be identified by the EU as a “systemic rival” in terms of promoting an alternative development model. Japan, South Korea, Australia and India are also increasingly concerned about China’s position and are considering relocating selected elements of production chains from China to other Asian countries. For the reasons outlined above, China will put an increasing emphasis on reducing its dependence on key technologies, as only self-sufficiency will ensure that it can achieve its superpower ambitions.

In line with earlier announcements, more efforts are expected in terms of building a “new infrastructure” and creating a physical framework for the digital and technological superpower economy. According to data from a state-owned think tank CCID, affiliated with the Ministry of Science and Technology, between 2020 and 2025 investments in “new infrastructure” are expected to be between 10 and 17.5 trillion yuan (1.43-2.51 trillion dollars). The funds are likely to be spent on building and advancing 5G networks, Industrial Internet of Things, modern transportation, data centers, Artificial Intelligence, high voltage networks and electric car charging stations. A vital area of government activity will be the development of the Artificial Intelligence sector and the domestic semiconductor industry. So far, the PRC authorities have paid much attention to these areas, as evidenced by a number of programs such as: Made in China 2025, the New Generation Artificial Intelligence Development Plan (新一代人工智能的发展计划) and China Standard 2035 (中国标准2035).

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Furthermore, much attention has been given to the “green” aspects of development, which are in line with the announcements regarding the creation of an “ecological civilization” and the plan to make China a carbon-neutral state by 2060. The energy transformation of the PRC and the development of renewable energy technologies are part of the strategy of ensuring energy independence and building a competitive high-tech industry. Moreover, the improvement of environmental conditions is a tribute to China’s increasingly environmentally conscious society. One of the first steps to implement these plans is to introduce a national emissions trading system, which, if launched, will become the largest such program in the world.

In the communiqué, the military matters were dealt with in a general way, which is understandable given that security issues have been elaborated in the Military Strategy published in 2015 and the Defense White Paper of 2019. The 2049 caesura is therefore still acknowledged as the moment when the People’s Liberation Army achieves the status of a “world class” military force. A reference to the need for further modernization, computerization and talent acquisition remains in line with the spirit of the army reforms initiated by Xi Jinping in 2015. These transformations were aimed at deepening the “military-civilian” merger and winning local conflicts under the conditions of computerization of the theater of war. Thus, they responded to the challenges of the evolution of the contemporary art of war and the rivalry to gain an advantage in the domain of intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, which guarantee better situational awareness. The technological focus of the new Five-Year Plan will therefore favor a higher saturation of the armed forces with advanced technologies and specialists capable of their effective operationalization.

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