What China’s five year plan means for Mongolia
At the end of October, China updated the world on its plans for the next five years and beyond.
These five year plans are a common feature of Chinese government. This one is the 14th so far, and is formally known (unsurprisingly) as the 14th Five Year Plan. A blueprint was formalised at a gathering called the Fifth Plenum, which is the latest in a scheduled series of seven meetings that occur in each of China’s five-year leadership terms.
In a public release, China’s leadership generally said they achieved the goals of the last five-year plan, which included more innovation in industry and services, green development, boosting e-commerce, increasing social insurance and opening financial markets.
They also believe China has achieved its goal of becoming a ‘moderately prosperous society’, with analysts placing the economy (in nominal terms) at 67 per cent the size of the US.
In a nutshell, the latest plan looks to build on the last one but places a greater emphasis on expanding domestic consumption.
It also emphasises a green economy and independent technological development in light of a growing trade conflict with the US.
However, it comes at a challenging time for China, with economic growth at near-unprecedented lows and increasing international resistance to its assertiveness in the Asia-Pacific.
Interestingly, experts have noted that some goals that were originally meant to be achieved in 2049 – the government’s 100th anniversary - have been brought forward to 2035. One hypothesis is that China’s leader, Xi Jinping, wants to be around to take credit for the country’s transformation (he will be 82 years old in 2035).
So for Mongolia, there are three main takeaways.
First, Xi Jinping is going to stick around for a long time.
According to a major US think tank, the document makes so many references to Xi that it’s clear there won’t be a challenge to his leadership any time soon. This means Chinese relations with Mongolia – to the extent that they are influenced by Xi’s thinking – will remain largely as they are, although with flashpoints (particularly over China’s policies towards ethnic Mongolians in Inner Mongolia).
Second, the document’s emphasis on a green economy, combined with China’s recent promise to go carbon neutral by 2060, means that Mongolia may need to diversify its energy industry to remain relevant to Chinese consumers.
Coal may not cut it for much longer.
Lithium and renewables could prove to be good alternatives – but only if China can’t meet demand from within its own borders.
Third, analysts say the document is evidence of a sort of ‘siege mentality’ amongst China’s leadership. In other words, Xi believes the country is destined for rivalry with the US, which brings ‘new challenges and opportunities’. For Mongolia, this means the two superpowers are likely to continue seeking influence in Ulaanbaatar through new infrastructure programs, trade, education, and more.
In short, there doesn’t seem to be anything ground-breaking in terms of Mongolia-China relations from this latest document. But it is another arrow pointing in the same direction: Mongolia’s massive southern neighbour intends to keep growing under the unchallenged stewardship of its most powerful leader since Mao.
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