Xi Jinping rallies China’s Communist party at opening of five-year congress

Xi Jinping rallies China’s Communist party at opening of five-year congress

President Xi Jinping has called on the Chinese Communist party’s 97mn members to steel themselves for a “critical time” in the country’s history, as he opened a congress that will solidify his status as the country’s most powerful ruler since revolutionary hero Mao Zedong.

In an almost two-hour speech in the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on Sunday, Xi said the party’s “mission is glorious beyond compare” as he outlined goals ranging from an “all-out people’s war” against the Covid-19 pandemic to realising the unification of China and Taiwan.

In one of the speech’s biggest applause lines, Xi pledged that the party, which celebrated its centennial last year and has been in power since 1949, would “never renounce the use of force [to achieve unification] and will take all necessary measures to stop all separatist movements”.

“The resolution of the Taiwan issue is a matter for the Chinese people themselves, to be decided by the Chinese people,” said Xi. Without mentioning the US specifically, he added that the party would combat “protectionism and bullying” by other nations.

“This is a clear message to Taiwan and to the US,” said Sonny Lo, a Hong Kong-based political analyst. “China has the determination to resolve the Taiwan issue within the next decade.”

The week-long congress will end on October 22, with a new leadership line-up unveiled a day later. Xi’s reappointment to a third term as party leader and head of the Chinese military is widely seen as a fait accompli, despite a series of controversial policies that have dramatically slowed growth in the world’s second-largest economy and badly strained China’s relationship with the US and its allies.

Xi is expected to be designated state president for a third time at the next annual session of China’s parliament in March.

The party congress will also usher in a new 200-member central committee, a politburo comprised of the party’s top 25 officials and a seven-seat Politburo Standing Committee, headed by Xi.

In the run-up to this week’s congress, the party’s flagship media outlets reaffirmed the importance of maintaining Xi’s controversial zero-Covid policy, which has minimised deaths from the virus by enforcing draconian shutdowns to contain even small outbreaks. Health officials have also boasted this week that they now have the ability to test 1bn people a day for the virus.

Xi’s administration has consistently hindered international efforts to investigate the early spread of the pandemic, which erupted in central Hubei province in January 2020 and has claimed more than 6.5mn lives worldwide, according to the World Health Organization. Beijing initially downplayed the seriousness of the outbreak and has since sought to sow disinformation about its origins.

Only two of Xi’s six colleagues on the Politburo Standing Committee are due to retire, in accordance with an unofficial rule that members aged 68 or older cannot be reappointed to the party’s most powerful body — a guideline that does not apply to the party leader.

But the age limit could be lowered to 67, which would force another two officials to step down, including Premier Li Keqiang. Li has been overshadowed for the past decade by Xi, who has usurped most of the authority exercised by previous premiers.

Li had been seen as one of Xi’s top rivals for the party leadership until 2007, when Xi’s status as the party’s leader-in-waiting was confirmed.

The congress will position Xi, 69, as head of the party and military until at least 2027. Health permitting, it is possible that he will retain both posts until at least 2032, when he will turn 79 — the same age as US president Joe Biden now.

Only one of Xi’s two living predecessors, Hu Jintao, was present at the opening of the congress on Sunday. Jiang Zemin, who is 96 and in frail health, did not attend.

In the early years of their respective party leaderships, Hu and Jiang were constrained by powerful predecessors. That has not been the case for Xi, given the widespread perception that Hu was a weak leader who presided over a “lost decade” marred by rampant corruption and environmental destruction.

“We have achieved an overwhelming victory against corruption, eliminating serious hidden dangers within the party, state and military,” Xi said, adding that only continuous “self revolution” could ensure that the party remained in power.

Additional reporting by Xinning Liu and Nian Liu in Beijing and Thomas Hale in Shanghai

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