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Photo: Kevin Frayer/Getty Images

While Americans were fixated on the U.S. presidential election, another major political event was happening in China: the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) Central Committee’s crucial Fifth Plenum meeting.

The big picture: The plenum underlined a further consolidation of Xi Jinping’s political hold on the party, lauding Xi as China’s “great navigator and helmsman,” a term last used for Mao Zedong. It also approved the outline of China’s all-important next Five-Year Plan for 2021-2025, and set 15-year goals out to 2035.

Why it matters: This 2020 plenum meeting will go down as a major political and economic turning point for China, and the world.

  • Xi accelerated targets to at least double China’s GDP by 2035, years ahead of schedule, likely surpassing the U.S. as the world’s top economy.
  • Beijing doubled-down on giving state-owned enterprises a leading role in transforming China into a “self-reliant” technological powerhouse.
  • The CCP adopted Xi’s new “dual circulation” economic strategy to transform China’s massive market into a “huge gravitational field” to capture global imports and pull other countries into its political orbit.

Xi prioritized national security to an unprecedented degree, describing “security as the precondition for development,” as well as hyping popular nationalism and pushing China’s military to fully modernize by 2027.

  • Xi also launched a new “party rectification” campaign for 2021 to purge anyone in the security organs of the party suspected of political disloyalty in the lead-up to the Party Congress of 2022, which will formally decide on Xi’s long-term tenure as China’s paramount leader.

Between the lines: Xi started the year off badly, with missteps on the economy and COVID-19 generating doubts in China about his leadership. But now his position looks stronger than before.

  • Amid a wave of promotions for Xi loyalists, no potential successor emerged at the Fifth Plenum — as has occurred in the past — providing the strongest sign yet that Xi will remain in power for the foreseeable future.
  • In 2035, Xi will be the same age as Mao at his death (82). He seems to be aiming, if successful in his ambitions, to have firmly cemented his legacy as equal to the Great Helmsman in party mythology.

The bottom line: Xi’s China looks radically different from the China of the past 40 years. With the U.S. and the rest of the world in disarray from COVID-19, Xi believes history is on his side and is growing more bold, not less.

  • President-elect Biden will face a formidable China in the years ahead. The 2020's loom as the make-or-break decade for the future of China, America, and the global order.

Go deeper: This article was adapted from a speech I delivered at a special Asia Society Policy Institute event this week. Read the full prepared text or watch the discussion that followed with former U.S. Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson.

Kevin Rudd was the 26th Prime Minister of Australia and is President of the Asia Society Policy Institute and Chair of the International Peace Institute in New York.

Go deeper

Dave Lawler, author of World
Jan 27, 2021 - World

At Davos, Putin points to U.S. to warn Big Tech is driving social divisions

Photo: Mikhail Svetlov/Getty Images

Russian President Vladimir Putin told the virtual “Davos Agenda” conference on Wednesday that recent events in the U.S. had underscored the danger of “public discontent” combined with “modern technology.”

The big picture: Putin, a late addition to the speakers' list, is facing protests at home over the arrest of opposition figure Alexey Navalny. Several experts and activists criticized the World Economic Forum for inviting him, with chess champion and Kremlin critic Garry Kasparov tweeting that Putin’s appearance showed he was “desperate to reassure his cronies he's still acceptable in the West despite his brutal crackdown.”

Jan 26, 2021 - World

Former Google CEO and others call for U.S.-China tech "bifurcation"

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

A new set of proposals by a group of influential D.C. insiders and tech industry practitioners calling for a degree of "bifurcation" in the U.S. and Chinese tech sectors is circulating in the Biden administration. Axios has obtained a copy.

Why it matters: The idea of "decoupling" certain sectors of the U.S. and Chinese economies felt radical three years ago, when Trump's trade war brought the term into common parlance. But now the strategy has growing bipartisan and even industry support.

U.S. ambassador to Russia will return home briefly: State Department

John Sullivan, U.S. Ambassador to Russia, during a briefing in Moscow in 2015. Photo: Anton Novoderezhkin/TASS via Getty Images

The State Department said Monday that the U.S. ambassador to Russia, John Sullivan, will now be returning to the United States this week before returning to Moscow "in the coming weeks."

Why this matters: The statement, from a State Department spokesperson, comes just hours after Axios reported that Sullivan had indicated he intended to stand his ground and stay in Russia after the Kremlin “advised” him to return home to talk with his team.