Chinese leader Xi Jinping vowed on Sunday to lead China through the daunting challenge of achieving national rejuvenation, advancing a nationalist vision that would bring it into conflict with the West.
Speaking at the opening ceremony of the Party’s 20th National Congress in preparation for an unconventional third term in power, Xi delivered a confident tone, underscoring China’s growing strength and rising power in his first decade in power. Influence.
But he also repeatedly stressed the risks and challenges facing the country.
Describing the past five years as “very unusual and extraordinary,” Xi said the ruling Communist Party had led China through a “severe and complex international situation” and “great risks and challenges that followed.”
The first challenges Xi listed were the Covid-19 pandemic, Hong Kong and Taiwan – all of which he claims China has overcome.
Xi said the Chinese government had “protected people’s lives and health” from the coronavirus, changed Hong Kong from “chaos to governance” and waged a “major struggle” against “independence forces” on the self-governing island of Taiwan. Democratic Beijing claims its own territory, although it never controls it.
Song Wenti, a political scientist with the Australian National University’s Taiwan Studies Program, said Xi’s decision to mention the Taiwan issue early in his speech was a departure from previous speeches and conveyed “a new urgency to make progress on the Taiwan issue.”
When Xi spoke about Taiwan again later in his speech, he won the loudest and longest applause among the nearly 2,300 hand-picked delegates in the Great Hall of the People.
He said China would “strive for peaceful reunification” but then issued a stern warning that “we will never commit to renounce the use of force and we reserve the option of taking all necessary measures”.
“The wheel of history is moving toward the reunification of China and the rejuvenation of the Chinese nation. The complete reunification of our country must be achieved,” Xi said to thunderous applause.
Xi also highlighted the “rapid changes in the international situation” – a veiled reference to tensions between China and the West, which were further exacerbated by Beijing’s tacit support for Moscow after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
He said China had “taken a clear stance on hegemony and power politics” and had “never wavered” in opposing unilateralism and “bullying” — an apparent slamming of the US-led leadership that Beijing felt needed to be upheld world order.tear down
Xi Jinping laid out a broad direction for the next five years, saying China would focus on “high-quality education” and innovation to “reinvigorate growth” in the country’s crisis-hit economy. In comments made months after a devastating crackdown on China’s private sector and major tech companies, he said China would “accelerate efforts to achieve greater self-reliance in technology.”
Xi also vowed to speed up building the PLA into a “world-class army” and improve the PLA’s ability to safeguard national sovereignty and build strategic deterrence. He also urged the PLA to strengthen training and improve its “capability to win.”
Xi Jinping’s speech was filled with the word China’s “security” – mentioned about 50 times. He called national security “the foundation of the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation” and urged strengthening military, economic and “everything” security at home and abroad.
Another focus is Marxism and ideology. “I don’t think there will be any softening of the ideological climate in the next five years,” said Victor Shi, an expert on Chinese elite politics at the University of California.
Dali Yang, a political scientist at the University of Chicago, said the direction Xi proposed in his opening remarks was a continuation of his previous policies. By emphasizing challenges and struggles, he said, it demonstrated “the need for a strong party and its great leaders”.
The week-long convention kicked off Sunday morning amid a frenzy of heightened security, zero Covid-19 restrictions, and a frenzy of publicity and scrutiny.
It was the Communist Party’s most important meeting in decades, and it will cement Xi Jinping’s position as China’s most powerful leader since the death of late Chairman Mao Zedong at the age of 82. It will also have far-reaching implications for the world, as Xi doubles down on a hard-line foreign policy to boost China’s international influence and rewrite the US-led global order.
Most of the meetings will be held behind closed doors throughout the week. When the delegates reappear at the end of next Saturday’s congress, they will rubber-stamp Xi’s work report and approve changes to the party constitution — which could give Xi a new title to further strengthen his power.
Delegates will also elect the party’s new Central Committee, which will hold its first meeting the next day to appoint the party’s top leadership, the Politburo and its Standing Committee, after the party’s leaders before the party congress. Decisions have been negotiated behind the scenes.
Congress will be a momentous moment for Xi Jinping’s political victory, but also at a time of potential crisis. Xi’s insistence on an uncompromising zero-virus policy has exacerbated public frustration and dented economic growth. Meanwhile, diplomatically, his “unlimited” friendship with Russian President Vladimir Putin has furthered Beijing’s relations with the West following Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine.
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In the run-up to the convention, officials across China sharply tightened restrictions to prevent even mild outbreaks of the coronavirus, imposing sweeping lockdowns and increasingly frequent mass testing of a small number of cases. However, infections caused by highly transmissible variants of Omicron continue to spread. China reported nearly 1,200 infections on Saturday, including 14 in Beijing.
Public anger over zero coronavirus came to the fore on Thursday at an unusually rare protest in Beijing. Online photos showed two banners unfolding on a busy overpass condemning Xi Jinping and his policies, before being removed by police.
“No to Covid testing, yes to food. No lockdown, yes freedom. No to lies, yes to dignity. No to Cultural Revolution, yes to reform. No to great leaders, yes to voting … don’t be a slave, be a citizen,” read one banner.
“Go on strike to get rid of dictator and national traitor Xi Jinping,” another wrote.
The Chinese public used to pay little attention to party congresses—they had no say in the reshuffle of the country’s leadership or the formulation of major policies. But this year, many are pinning their hopes on the convention as a turning point in China’s easing of its coronavirus policy.
However, a recent series of articles by the party’s mouthpiece suggests this may be wishful thinking. The People’s Daily hailed zero coronavirus as the country’s “best choice”, insisting it was “sustainable and must be followed”.
On Sunday, Xi Jinping defended his controversial and economically damaging zero Covid-19 policy.
“In responding to the sudden outbreak of Covid-19, we put people and their lives first and doggedly pursued a dynamic zero Covid policy to wage an all-out people’s war against the virus,” he said.
Alfred Wu, an associate professor at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy at the National University of Singapore, said Xi’s words showed that “China is unlikely to change its zero-epidemic strategy in the near future”.