BEIJING: President Xi Jinping hailed China’s rise as a global power and called for unity on Sunday, launching a Communist Party Congress that is set to endorse his bid to rule for a historic third term.
In an opening address to 2,300 delegates gathered at the Great Hall of the People, Xi promoted and defended a range of signature policies - including zero-COVID and his anti-corruption drive.
“Unity is strength, and victory requires unity,” Xi said after walking onstage to a thunderous reception from the attendees who will vote during the week-long Congress on the party leadership for the next five years.
The president - whose 10-year rule has seen the country become a global superpower - said “China’s international influence, appeal and power to shape the world has significantly increased”.
During his 100-minute work report on the past five years, Xi also focused on two of China’s most sensitive security and sovereignty issues in relation to Hong Kong, and Taiwan.
He lauded Hong Kong’s transition from “chaos to governance”, while his vow to “never commit to abandoning the use of force” on Taiwan drew rapturous applause.
Xi celebrated the party’s continued efforts to eradicate COVID as a major achievement.
He insisted the approach had “protected people’s safety and health to the highest degree”.
He also highlighted as a success his graft crackdown. Xi said the anti-corruption campaign had eliminated “serious latent dangers” within the Communist Party, the military and the state.
“The fight against corruption has won an overwhelming victory and has been comprehensively consolidated,” he said.
In a speech that mostly focused on domestic issues, Xi also told the delegates that China would “actively participate in global governance on climate change”.
Xi also reiterated that China opposed a “Cold War mentality” in international diplomacy, but made no mention of frayed relations with the United States.
Xi also did not reference the Ukraine war.
Xi opened the week-long, twice-a-decade session with a speech touting China’s fight against COVID-19, the party’s safeguarding of national security, maintaining social stability, protecting people’s lives and taking control of the situation in Hong Kong, which was rocked by anti-government protests in 2019.
He also called for accelerating the building of a world-class military.
Xi’s speech of less than two hours - far shorter than his nearly three-and-a-half-hour address at the last party congress in 2017 - mentioned “safety” or “security” 73 times, up from 55 times in the previous speech, while mentioning “reforms” 16 times, down from 70 times five years ago.
To prolonged applause, Xi said it was up to the Chinese people to resolve the Taiwan issue and China would never renounce the right to use force but will strive for a peaceful resolution. Taiwan, which China views as its own territory, responded that it will not back down on its sovereignty or compromise on freedom and democracy.
China will enact policies to boost its birth rate, Xi said, as policymakers worry that an imminent decline in China’s population could hurt the world’s second-biggest economy.
China will make its COVID-19 prevention measures more scientific, accurate and effective, a party spokesman said on Saturday, while reiterating Beijing’s stance that its pandemic approach is the right one.
Little is known about who will be promoted into which key roles on the Politburo and its seven-member Standing Committee.
Here are some of the leading contenders and some scenarios to look out for.
Leaders face a difficult time. The world’s second-largest economy is slowing and facing a potentially painful rebalancing of its investment- and property-led model.
China’s real estate developers are delaying debt restructuring moves until after the congress, hoping the gathering offers clues on how Beijing plans to stabilise the embattled sector.
There were no policy announcements in the address, which was largely a review of the current state of play, and analysts said Xi wanted to project stability.
“This is a very turbulent time with the COVID crisis, economic downturn and tense international situation, especially with the US,” said Alfred L. Chan, a Xi biographer and professor based in Canada.
“Caution, rather than dramatic change, is more prudent.”
Should everything go to plan for Xi, the 69-year-old will be endorsed as the party’s general secretary after the week-long meeting ends, cementing his position as China’s most powerful leader since Mao Zedong.
Xi and the party’s other top brass are likely to be unveiled on October 23, the day after the Congress closes.
If picked as party leader for another five-year term as expected, he is almost certain to be elected president at the annual meeting of China’s National People’s Congress in March.
In closed-door conclave this week, the delegates will pick members of the party’s roughly 200-member Central Committee, which in turn selects the 25-person Politburo and its all-powerful Standing Committee - the country’s highest leadership body.
A heavy police presence was in place around Beijing early Sunday as authorities prepared for the Congress.
Participants navigated a string of security checks before entering the hall, where a giant hammer-and-sickle emblem hung over the stage on which top leaders are due to be seated.
“Long live the great, glorious and correct Chinese Communist Party,” blared one of the bright red banners adorning the hall.