Meet the party that runs China

Meet the party that runs China

July 1st is the 100th anniversary of the Chinese Communist Party, which dominates politics in the world's most populous country. You have probably read, or will read this week, a barrage of media coverage about the CCP's history, how it has changed under General-Secretary Xi Jinping, or what are its future plans for China. But today — and with some help by Eurasia Group expert Neil Thomas — we'll answer more basic questions about the famously opaque party.


What is the CCP? It's the ruling political party in the People's Republic of China. In power since 1949, the CCP has now controlled China for almost as long as the Communist Party of the Soviet Union controlled the USSR before the 1991 collapse.

Although it may seem communist only in name following the economic reforms that began in the late 1970s, the structure of the Chinese state under the CCP is similar to that of other socialist authoritarian regimes. But both ideas coexist peacefully: China pursues economic policies that are capitalist — albeit state-directed — yet the party remains the ultimate political authority.

How does the CCP work internally? CCP officials are "elected" to leadership positions every five years, when top officials meet in Beijing for national party congresses, although outcomes are decided earlier by party leaders in secretive negotiations. The most coveted positions are on the Politburo's elite standing committee, whose seven members have the final say on major political, economic, and social issues.

As CCP general-secretary, president of the People's Republic and chairman of the Central Military Commission, Xi has centralized decision-making power to become the most influential Chinese leader since Mao Zedong. What's more, since rising to the top of the party's leadership almost nine years ago, Xi has purged its ranks of potential rivals and removed presidential term limits, meaning he could well stay on for decades more.

How does the CCP rule China? It's often said that the party and the government are pretty much the same thing in China. In reality, the CCP controls the government, and through it — and the military — the country.

Party leaders, however, insist on referring to the CCP by its slightly different official name — Communist Party of China, or CPC — because in their view it belongs first to China and its people. The party, according to the official narrative, exists to support Chinese business and workers, rather than the other way around. That said, public criticism of the party itself is unwelcome, no matter how powerful you are... as billionaire Jack Ma found out a few months ago.

How much does the CCP control the population? It depends. As authoritarian as the party is, the CCP is in many ways not totalitarian. Most Chinese go about their daily lives without worrying much about the party, which nowadays rarely meddles in where people choose to live, what they study, or which job they can get. What the CCP does is set strict limits on political expression and enforce harsh punishments for those who cross its lines, and takes a hard line on surveillance and persecution of political dissidents and of ethnic minorities in places like Xinjiang.

At the same time, the CCP invests enormous resources in propaganda and censorship systems that ensure its message remains dominant. Yet the party knows that creating growth and delivering public services is key to its long-term political resilience, and so actively monitors public sentiment and welcomes citizen feedback on the performance (good or bad) of local officials.

How popular is the CCP among Chinese people? Overall, most Chinese don't live in fear of the CCP, whose nationalist appeals, development success story, and containment of COVID have endowed it with a surprising degree of popular legitimacy. Indeed, a lot of people want to join the party — which boasts almost 92 million members — because CCP membership is a ticket to upward mobility. Xi knows this, and has raised the bar to apply because he only wants the best, the brightest, and — importantly — the most loyal Chinese to rule.

During the past year, 58% of all cyberattacks observed by Microsoft from nation-states have come from Russia. And attacks from Russian nation-state actors are increasingly effective, jumping from a 21% successful compromise rate last year to a 32% rate this year. Russian nation-state actors are increasingly targeting government agencies for intelligence gathering, which jumped from 3% of their targets a year ago to 53% – largely agencies involved in foreign policy, national security or defense. The top three countries targeted by Russian nation-state actors were the United States, Ukraine and the UK. These are just a few of the insights in the second annual Microsoft Digital Defense Report. Read additional highlights from the Microsoft on the Issues blog and find the full report here.

If you had to guess which current world leader has made the most trips to Africa, who would you say? China's Xi Jinping? Nope, hardly — he's been there just four times. France's Emmanuel Macron? Pas de tout.

The answer may surprise you: it's Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who's been to the continent more times than the leader(s) of any other non-African state. Just this week he notched his 28th visit, with stops in Angola, Nigeria, and Togo. Sure, being in power for two decades creates a lot of opportunities for exotic travel, but even Putin isn't close: he's been to Africa just five times, all to visit South Africa or Egypt.

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China's GDP grew a lower-than-expected 4.9 percent year-on-year in the third quarter of 2021, a whopping three percentage points less than in the previous period. It's a big deal for the world's second-largest economy, the only major one that expanded throughout the pandemic — and now at risk of missing its growth target of 6 percent for the entire year.

Normally, such a drastic slowdown would have put the ruling Communist Party in a tizzy. But this time, Xi Jinping knows this is the price he must pay for his big plans to curb rising inequality and boost the middle class at the expense of the CCP's traditional economic mantra: high growth above all else.

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6,000: Poland has doubled the number of troops guarding its border with Belarus to almost 6,000 because of a surge in migrants trying to cross over (there were 612 attempts on Monday alone). Warsaw accuses Minsk of sending non-EU migrants into Poland as payback for EU sanctions against Belarus.

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Religious tension rising in Bangladesh: Clashes between Hindus and Muslims in Bangladesh have surged over the past week, leaving at least four people dead. After an image was posted on Facebook showing the Quran at the feet of a statue at a Hindu temple, Muslims burned Hindu-owned homes and attacked their holy sites. Both sides have taken to the street in protest, with Hindus saying that they have been prevented from celebrating Durga Puja, the largest Hindu festival in the country. Such acts of sectarian violence are not uncommon in Bangladesh, a majority-Muslim country where Hindus account for nine percent of the population. Indeed, as Eurasia Group's Kevin Allison recently warned, unverified social media content stoking inter-ethnic conflict is a massive problem throughout South Asia, where for many people Facebook is synonymous with the internet.

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Ian Bremmer's Quick Take:

Read Ian Bremmer's wide-ranging essay in Foreign Affairs that puts in perspective both the challenge, and the opportunity, that comes from the unprecedented power of Big Tech.

Hi, everybody. Ian Bremmer here on the road, something we haven't done very much recently, but will increasingly as we try to move through COVID. And I want to talk to you about a new article that I just put out in Foreign Affairs that I'm calling "The Technopolar Moment." Not unipolar, not bipolar, not multipolar, technopolar. What the hell does technopolar mean?

It means that increasingly big technology companies are themselves geopolitical actors. So to understand the future of the world, you can't just look at the United States, Europe and China. You need to look at the big tech companies, too.

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China gets away with a lot these days in Hong Kong, Xinjiang, and elsewhere. That's because over the past decade, its economy has experienced explosive growth, making it an indispensable trading partner for almost every country in the world. At the same time, China has been expanding its share of the global economy, and is now set to overtake the US as the world's biggest economic powerhouse in the near term. We take a look at China's annual growth rate and share of the global economy based on GDP over the past decade.

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