BEIJING (Reuters) – Chinese President Xi Jinping called for accelerating the building of a world-class military as he promoted the fight against COVID-19 as a Communist Party congress kicked off with a heavy emphasis on security and an affirmation of policy priorities.
Xi, 69, is widely expected to win a third term as president at the conclusion of the week-long conference that began on Sunday morning, cementing his status as China’s most powerful ruler since Mao Zedong.
Nearly 2,300 delegates from across the country gathered in the Great Hall of the People on the western side of Tiananmen Square amid tight security and under blue skies after several foggy days in the Chinese capital.
Register now to get free unlimited access to Reuters.com
Xi described the five years since the last party congress as “extremely unusual and unusual”, during a speech that lasted less than two hours – much shorter than his nearly three-and-a-half-hour speech at the 2017 congress.
“We must strengthen our sense of difficulties, stick to basic thinking, be prepared for dangers in times of peace, prepare for a rainy day, and be prepared to withstand the major tests of high winds and high waves,” he said.
He referred to “safety” or “security” 73 times, compared to 55 times in 2017, according to texts by the Xinhua News Agency, and said China will enhance its ability to build a strategic deterrence capacity.
By comparison, Xi said “reforms” 16 times in the televised address, far fewer than the 70 he mentioned five years ago.
Xi called for strengthening the capacity to maintain national security, ensuring food and energy supplies, securing supply chains, improving disaster response capacity and protecting personal information.
The biggest applause came when Xi reiterated his opposition to Taiwan independence.
During his decade in power, Xi set China on an increasingly authoritarian path that prioritized security, state control of the economy in the name of “common prosperity,” more assertive diplomacy, a stronger military, and intense pressure to seize democratically governed Taiwan. .
Analysts generally do not expect a significant change in policy direction in the third Xi term.
With the Chinese economy slowing, Xi is trying to shift the foundation of legitimacy from economic growth to security, said Alfred Wu, associate professor at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy at the National University of Singapore.
“His story is that China is facing many dangers, the country is in a war-like state, figuratively speaking, and he is the savior. With this narrative, he can make people unite around him,” he said.
In recent days, China has repeatedly stressed its commitment to Xi’s COVID-free strategy, dashed hopes among countless Chinese citizens as well as investors that Beijing may begin to exit anytime soon from a policy that has caused widespread frustration and economic damage.
Xi said little about the coronavirus other than emphasizing the correctness of the policy that has made China an out-of-the-world country as most of the world tries to live with the coronavirus, which emerged in central China in late 2019.
“We have adhered to the sovereignty of people and the sovereignty of life, we have adhered to the COVID-free dynamism… and achieved significant positive results in the overall prevention and control of the epidemic, and economic and social development,” Xi said.
On the economy, he reiterated his support for the private sector and allowing markets to play a major role, even as China fine-tuned the “socialist economic system” and promoted “shared prosperity.”
“We must build a socialist high-level market economic system… and steadfastly consolidate and develop the system of public ownership, steadily encourage and support the development of the private economy, give full play to the decisive role of the market in resource allocation and give a better role to government.”
Xi’s power appears not to have been diminished by the turmoil of a year that saw the Chinese economy slow down dramatically, due to repeated COVID policy shutdowns, the crisis in the real estate sector, and the impact of his crackdown in 2021 on the once-liberating “platform economy.” As well as global headwinds.
China’s relations with the West have deteriorated sharply, exacerbated by Xi’s support for Russian President Vladimir Putin.
The son of a Communist Party revolutionary, Xi has revitalized a party that had become deeply corrupt and increasingly irrelevant, expanding his presence in all aspects of China, with Xi officially becoming its “core”.
Xi got rid of presidential term limits in 2018, paving the way for him to break with the precedent of recent decades and rule for a third five-year term, or longer.
“I support Xi Jinping’s re-election for a third term with both hands,” Li Yinjiang, a delegate from Jiangsu Province, told Reuters. He can make our country strong and make our people happy.”
The congress is expected to reconfirm Xi as general secretary of the Party, China’s most powerful position, as well as chairman of the Central Military Commission. Xi’s presidency is due to be renewed in March at the annual session of China’s parliament.
In the lead-up to the conference, the Chinese capital has beefed up security measures and COVID restrictions, while steel mills in nearby Hebei Province have been instructed to reduce operations to improve air quality, an industry source said.
The day after the conference ends on Saturday, Xi is expected to present his new Politburo Standing Committee, a seven-person leadership team. It will include the person who will replace Li Keqiang as prime minister when Li steps down from the post in March after serving a maximum of two terms.
Register now to get free unlimited access to Reuters.com
Additional reporting by Yi Lun Tian, Ryan Wu, Martin Quinn Pollard, Eduardo Baptista, Kevin Yao and Dominic Patton; Written by Tony Munro. Editing by William Mallard
Our criteria: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.
“Infuriatingly humble analyst. Bacon maven. Proud food specialist. Certified reader. Avid writer. Zombie advocate. Incurable problem solver.”