Speaking in Beijing’s Great Hall of the People, at the start of the week-long 19th party congress, Xi told delegates that thanks to decades of “tireless struggle” China stood “tall and firm in the East”.
Now, Xi said, it was time for his nation to transform itself into “a mighty force” that could lead the world on political, economic, military and environmental issues.
“This is a new historic juncture in China’s development,” China’s 64-year-old leader declared in his bold 3hr 23min address outlining the party’s priorities for the next five years.
“The Chinese nation … has stood up, grown rich, and become strong – and it now embraces the brilliant prospects of rejuvenation … It will be an era that sees China moving closer to centre stage and making greater contributions to mankind.”
Xi warned that achieving what he has dubbed the “China Dream” would be “no walk in the park”: “It will take more than drum beating and gong clanging to get there.”
“[But] our mission is a call to action … let us get behind the strong leadership of the party and engage in a tenacious struggle.”
Xi became the Communist party’s general secretary – and thus China’s leader – at the last party congress in 2012, and has since emerged as one of China’s most dominant rulers since Mao Zedong.
In the surprisingly long speech – titled “Secure a decisive victory in building a moderately prosperous society in all respects and strive for the great success of socialism with Chinese characteristics for a new era” – Xi struck an upbeat tone that contrasted with the grey skies and drizzle outside.
“The Chinese nation is a great nation; it has been through hardships and adversity but remains indomitable. The Chinese people are a great people; they are industrious and brave and they never pause in pursuit of progress,” he said.
“The Communist party of China is a great party; it has the fight and mettle to win.”
Xi warned that corruption remained the greatest threat to the party’s survival despite a five-year war on graft that he claimed had been “built into a crushing tide”. “We must remain as firm as a rock … and secure sweeping victory,” he said, warning that “pleasure-seeking, inaction and sloth” were no longer acceptable. “We must … rid ourselves of any virus that erodes the party’s health.”
Xi, who has sought to portray himself as a strong and stable international statesman since last year’s election of Donald Trump, also painted China as a responsible global power that was committed to tackling shared dangers such as climate change.
“No country alone can address the many challenges facing mankind. No country can afford to retreat into self-isolation,” he said.
Without directly mentioning Trump, he noted how China had “taken a driving seat in international cooperation to respond to climate change”. He added: “Only by observing the laws of nature can mankind avoid costly blinders in its exploitation. Any harm we inflict on nature will eventually return to haunt us. This is a reality we have to face.”
Xi took a harder line on Hong Kong, which witnessed an unprecedented 79-day pro-democracy occupation and the birth of a nascent independence movement during his first term.
He vowed that Beijing would not allow the “one country, two systems” model, under which the former British colony has operated with relative autonomy from the mainland since handover, to be “bent or distorted”. Nor would independence activists be tolerated. “We will never allow anyone, any organisation, or any political party, at any time or in any form, to separate any part of Chinese territory from China.”
Xi was similarly uncompromising on China’s overall political model, offering no hint that democratic reform was on the horizon or that the party was considering loosening its grip on power. “No one political system should be regarded as the only choice and we should not just mechanically copy the political systems of other countries,” said Xi, who has overseen one of the most severe political chills in recent Chinese history. “The political system of socialism with Chinese characteristics is a great creation.”
Xi insisted China did “not pose a threat to any other country” but his speech chimed with the increasingly assertive - some say domineering - foreign policy that has emerged on his watch. He cited Beijing’s highly controversial island-building campaign as one of the key accomplishments of his first term. “Construction on islands and reefs in the South China Sea has seen steady progress.”
Beijing did not seek global hegemony but “no-one should expect China to swallow anything that undermines its interests”.
More than 2,200 delegates have poured into Beijing for the week-long gathering, bringing with them an effervescence of political tributes.
“This is a joyous occasion,” Hu Xiaohan, the director of the Congress’ media centre, enthused at a reception on Monday night.
“Great changes have occurred in China and we are so proud of it,” said Xue Rong, a delegate who had travelled to the capital from Henan province. “Xi Jinping is a great man. He is down-to-earth, too. He carries the people in his heart.”
Zhao Yongqing, the propaganda chief of the north-western region of Ningxia, told the Guardian he had been inspired by Xi’s opening pitch to the congress. “I feel a big responsibility. As a delegate, I must study and understand Xi’s speech thoroughly, and publicise and implement it well when I return home.”
The event, which Xi will use to pack the Communist party’s upper ranks with allies, marks the official end of what is expected to be the first of his two five-year terms in power.
For some though it has come to represent the advent of a new political era that could extend well beyond the originally anticipated end of Xi’s second term, in 2022.
Chen Daoyin, a Shanghai-based political scientist, said he believed the congress heralded the start of China’s third great political epoch since Mao Zedong’s communists seized power in 1949.
The first epoch was Mao himself, a revolutionary standard-bearer who helped the country find its feet; then came Deng Xiaoping, the reformer who masterminded China’s economic opening and helped it grow rich. “Now it’s Xi Jinping’s turn to usher in … the Xi Jinping era,” said Chen.
He predicted Xi would be remembered as the leader who made China a strong and powerful nation: “Being strong first of all means being a global power: being a world leader and therefore leading the world. It also means that the Communist party must be strong, and that it must maintain one-party rule.”
Elizabeth Economy, the director for Asia studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, said she also considered Xi a transformative figure who saw himself in the same tradition as Mao and Deng.
“I don’t think there’s a lack of confidence in Xi Jinping,” said Economy, who is writing a book on the Communist party leader called The Third Revolution.
“I think he believes that in order to reclaim China’s historic greatness, its centrality in the world, that China needs a strong leader – and he is the person for the job.”
Economy compared Xi’s bold political vision to a pyramid: “Xi Jinping sits on top of the Communist party, the Communist party sits on top of China, and China sits on top of the world.”
OP note: since my new/current home is mainland China, i thought i should post something about this. This week's developments are likely to be dull but important. By the end of the Congress it should be clearer what path Xi and his conservative wing of the Party are going to push over the next 5 years and beyond. Here are some other articles that may interest you guys...
- China congress: How authorities censor your thoughts - BBC talks about content control and the Great Firewall
- Guo Wengui, the maverick Chinese billionaire who threatens to crash Xi's party - the Graun reports on the the sleazy 1%er palling around with Steve Bannon
- Amid strained ties, North Korea congratulates China on party congress - Reuters suggests that Kim Jong-un may behave instead of lobbing another missile during the Congress like some predicted
From my perspective i would suggest taking a lot of the breathless/alarmist opinion pieces from the western media with a grain of salt. The Chinese government is definitely problematic, but it's not a country full of a billion brainwashed drones. Similarly HK is not a city/state full of ten million people clamoring for independence. If you don't mind a paywall (or only getting weekly updates), i recommend subscribing to the Sinocism newsletter for a fairly balanced selection of articles.