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Xi Jinping’s Mission Statement
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Xi Jinping’s Mission Statement

The Chinese president defends his policy regime at his party’s National Congress ahead of an expected third term.

Happy Tuesday! A pair of 140-year-old Levi’s jeans found in an abandoned mineshaft sold for a whopping $76,000 at auction earlier this month. 

Husbands everywhere, rejoice: You can’t throw away your ratty old vintage sports T-shirts—they’re investments.

Quick Hits: Today’s Top Stories

  • Explosions rocked Kyiv again on Monday as Russia deployed several Iranian-made “kamikaze” drones to Ukraine’s capital, destroying a number of buildings and terrifying civilians. 
  • In an effort to shore up financial markets, the United Kingdom’s new chancellor of the exchequer Jeremy Hunt told Parliament on Monday he and Prime Minister Liz Truss agreed to reverse “almost all” of the remaining tax cuts Truss and former Chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng announced as part of their pro-growth “mini budget” last month. Essentially all that remains from Truss’ original £45 billion plan are tweaks to national insurance contributions and stamp duty. Truss—whose Conservative Party now trails Labor in public polling by more than 30 percentage points, and whose authority is rapidly erodingapologized for “the mistakes that have been made,” acknowledging she went “too far” and “too fast” with her growth plan. 
  • A German probe into last month’s Nord Stream pipeline leaks found the explosions were likely caused by sabotage, though investigators were unable to confidently link the allegations to one group or entity in particular. The results of the probe echo what Swedish officials found on a preliminary basis a few weeks ago.
  • With the threat of severe energy shortages rising, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz bucked portions of his governing coalition by issuing an order on Monday extending the life of Germany’s three remaining nuclear power plants—which were slated to shut down at the end of December—through at least April 2023.
  • Appeals from the United States and African Union for the resumption of a ceasefire in Ethiopia appear to have failed, with Ethiopian government officials announcing Monday they plan to seize airports and other federal facilities in the northern Tigray region. The Ethiopian government claimed the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) was using the facilities to launch attacks, and urged civilians to distance themselves from the TPLF’s military assets.
  • President Joe Biden announced Monday the form to apply for his administration’s student loan debt forgiveness program is live, noting more than 8 million people already submitted their information to a beta version of the website that was online over the weekend. The Department of Education will not process any applications until at least next week, as the plan is currently facing a number of legal challenges. A federal judge in Missouri is currently weighing the constitutionality of the move after hearing oral arguments on a motion brought by six Republican-led states challenging the plan.
  • The Washington Post reported Monday that FBI agents have been notifying officials at Republican and Democratic state party headquarters in recent days of efforts by Chinese government hackers to identify vulnerabilities in the political parties’ systems before the midterms in advance of a potential breach. Anonymous U.S. officials told the Post that none of the potential targets have been hacked. 
  • The Treasury Department on Monday designated nine al-Shabaab leaders for sanctions, alleging they’ve engaged in weapons procurement, financial facilitation, and recruitment activities for the al-Qaeda-aligned terrorist group operating in east Africa. In a related move, Secretary of State Antony Blinken also formally designated five al-Shabaab leaders as terrorists.

Xi Has a Lot to Say

Chinese President Xi Jinping arrives at the opening ceremony of the 20th National Congress of the Communist Party of China. (Photo by Kevin Frayer/Getty Images)

Chinese President Xi Jinping has certainly come a long way from his youth exiled to the countryside after his father’s fall from party leadership. During his decade at the pinnacle of Chinese power, he’s pushed to modernize the country’s military, purged political rivals alongside corrupt officials, cracked down on freedom of expression and imprisoned thousands of religious and ethnic minorities, and struck a confrontational tone toward other nations.

Xi insisted in a nearly two-hour speech Sunday that China will continue to prioritize economic growth, pursue its “Zero COVID” policy, defend its national security, and aim at unification with Taiwan.

Unlike previous leaders who appointed successors after one five-year term and stepped down after two, Xi is all but certain to receive a third term as political and military head during this week’s National Congress—the twice-a-decade meeting of Chinese Communist Party delegates that this time around feels like Xi’s coronation party. During his kickoff speech Sunday, the now 69-year-old Xi indicated he has no intention of backing down from his signature policies.

Xi didn’t spend a lot of time on COVID-19 in the speech, but he suggested China won’t be abandoning its Zero COVID regime. “In responding to the sudden attack of COVID-19, we put the people and their lives above all else and tenaciously pursued a dynamic Zero Covid policy,” Xi said, per a translation. “We have protected the people’s health and safety to the greatest extent possible.” 

Covid lockdowns have dragged down an economy already showing signs of stagnation. State and private debt in China now tops 250 percent of gross domestic product—trailing only Japan—and its over-leveraged real estate sector is struggling as sales slow. Youth unemployment is just shy of 20 percent, and dropping birth rates mean a population aging out of the workforce. China is unlikely to enter a recession in the immediate future, but the nation may still see its slowest annual growth since 1990–the World Bank predicts year-over-year gross domestic product growth will slow to 2.8 percent in 2022 from 8.1 percent in 2021. And while China’s double-digit economic growth in past years has helped buffer the global economy from downturns elsewhere, its comparatively weaker growth now won’t provide the same backstop as high inflation, interest rates, and energy prices send major economies in Europe and America toward recessions.

Xi’s speech also featured now-expected rhetoric on military strength, Taiwan, and protecting national security—from both hostile foreign countries and perceived internal threats such as ethnic and religious minorities like the Uyghurs. Xi has spearheaded China’s military modernization efforts, increasing spending from about $151 billion a year to more than $220 billion and deemphasizing infantry in favor of naval and rocket power. “We will intensify military training under combat conditions across the board to see that our armed forces can fight,” Xi promised Sunday. “We will innovate new military strategic guidance and develop strategies and tactics for people’s war.”

Nor did Xi attempt to reverse China’s increasingly adversarial relationship with Western countries or Asian neighbors concerned about its aggressive approach to global power and repression at home. Instead, he referred to “rapid changes in the international situation” and lauded China for taking “a clear-cut stance against hegemonism and power politics,” a dig at the United States. “There was no olive branch for the United States,” Oriana Skylar Mastro*, a fellow at Stanford University’s Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies, told The Dispatch. “For many years when we had tensions, China always thought it was in their best interest for their rise to have very positive relations with the United States. And I think they no longer feel that way.”

That’s not necessarily bad, Mastro argues, because it allows the U.S. and allies to set policies toward China without fear of disrupting an otherwise warm relationship—necessary as China’s rhetoric toward Taiwan gets increasingly aggressive, requiring the U.S. to plan for an invasion attempt. Xi did discuss the island democracy in Sunday’s speech, repeating previous assertions that China won’t rule out using force to seek reunification and receiving thunderous applause from the gathered delegates. Sunday’s speech didn’t suggest China is about to attack Taiwan, Mastro argued, but underscores the importance of preparing to deter its aggression in the region.

Overall, Xi didn’t offer any policy shockers on Sunday. That’s to be expected, since the National Congress is more about leadership changes and long-term policy plans than immediate policy adjustments. But it’s also a sign of the continuity—and perhaps stagnation—that comes with a long-term leader. “A third term [for Xi] implies stasis in China, not stability so much, but an ossification of the political system,” argued Ian Johnson, a China expert with the Council on Foreign Relations. If advisers feel pressure to tell Xi what he wants to hear, it could produce poor policy decisions. “Think of Zero COVID over the past year, which was a policy that made a lot of sense early on, but sort of outlived its usefulness—and there doesn’t seem to be an exit strategy. And I think there could be more of those kinds of missteps over the next five years.” The consequences of such ossification would depend on how long Xi stays in power and how effectively he plans for a successor. 

One possible exception to this loss of governmental efficiency? The military. 

“Xi has been very clear to the military that he wants to hear about failures,” Mastro said. “He doesn’t want to just feel like he has a powerful military, he actually wants one. To date, the reforms that the military has made have made them much more lethal. So I’m not sure if centralization of Xi’s power is going to be a bad thing for their military might.”

Dispatch Website Tip of the Day

As we’ve mentioned in recent TMDs, we’re aware that some functionalities that Dispatch members were used to didn’t survive the migration from Substack last week—but improvements to the commenting experience have been a top priority for us the past few days. 

The following upgrades are in the final stages of testing and will be released in the coming days:

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We’ll continue to keep you informed as we roll out updates—both that they exist and how to take advantage of them. We appreciate your patience.

Worth Your Time

  • In a piece for National Review, John Hood argues 21st-century conservatives should embrace freedom as their driving ethos. “Does maximizing freedom solve all human problems? No! We are conservatives, not utopians,” he writes. “Is it a simple task to strike the proper balance between legislative and executive power, between low taxes and the adequate provision of core public services, between Washington and the states, between the political sovereignty of communities and the personal sovereignty of individuals? No! If free societies were easy to sustain, there’d be more of them. As American conservatives see it, freedom allows us to pursue virtue. Virtuous behavior, in turn, helps to sustain our freedom. It is a reciprocal relationship. It is, however, far from automatic or guaranteed. Its preservation requires constant vigilance, and ongoing adaptation, and vigorous effort to strengthen the civil institutions that seek to transmit virtue and to ameliorate the consequences of vice.”
  • Like many presidents before him, Joe Biden has convinced himself that, this time, industrial policy and economic protectionism will work. They won’t. “The president’s big economic idea is, more or less, the Jones Act—but for everything,” Peter Suderman writes for Reason. “Yet, if the Jones Act has shown us anything over the last century, it is that subsidies, labor requirements, and regulatory schemes intended to protect American jobs and industries deemed vital to national security end up raising costs in ordinary times while leaving America more vulnerable in moments of crisis.” From the CHIPS Act, to his “Buy American” plans, to his administration’s attempt to reclassify millions of independent contractors as employees, Biden is systematically making the American economy less efficient and resilient, Suderman argues.

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Toeing the Company Line

  • Now that the website migration is complete, Dispatch members can sign up to receive national correspondent Kevin Williamson’s new newsletter in their email! Simply click here and make sure the box under Wanderland is checked. In Monday’s edition (🔒), Kevin shares some thoughts on the death penalty in light of the Parkland shooter’s recent sentencing. “He deserves death as much as anybody I can think of,” he writes. “But the issue of what he deserves may be less illuminating than it seems at first.”
  • Same goes for Allahpu—er, Nick Catoggio’s new newsletter, Boiling Frogs. In yesterday’s edition (🔒): Why not Brian Kemp 2024? “When you vote for governor, you’re choosing which policies you want to be governed by,” he writes. “When you vote for president, you’re choosing a culture-war pope. There’s no populist argument for Kemp over DeSantis on that score.”
  • On today’s episode of Advisory Opinions, David and Sarah mull over Donald Trump’s options following the January 6 committee’s subpoena, discuss Judge Ho’s response to critics of his Yale Law School boycott, and revel in Clarence Thomas’ Prince fandom. Plus: How early should you get in line in order to attend a Supreme Court hearing?
  • It’s Tuesday, which means Dispatch Live (🔒) returns tonight at 8 p.m. ET/5 p.m. PT! Keep an eye out for an email with more details on how to tune in.
  • On the site today, Audrey covers the campaign money woes of Pennsylvania Republican gubernatorial candidate Doug Mastriano, Robert Tyler analyzes the pro-America foreign policy of new leaders in Italy and Sweden, and James C. Capretta discusses how free-market reforms could help curtail health care costs.

Let Us Know

As relations between the U.S. and China continue to cool, what is likely to happen to our thoroughly entwined economies?

Correction, October 18, 2022: This piece has been updated to correctly spell Oriana Skylar Mastro’s name.

Declan Garvey is the executive editor at the Dispatch and is based in Washington, D.C. Prior to joining the company in 2019, he worked in public affairs at Hamilton Place Strategies and market research at Echelon Insights. When Declan is not assigning and editing pieces, he is probably watching a Cubs game, listening to podcasts on 3x speed, or trying a new recipe with his wife.

Esther Eaton is a former deputy editor of The Morning Dispatch.