Xi signals continuity in his China Communist Party congress speech

BEIJING — Chinese leader Xi Jinping signaled Sunday that his government would maintain policies that have put it at odds with the U.S. and other nations and deepened Communist Party control of the economy and society.

Xi, speaking at the opening of a twice-a-decade party congress that is expected to give him a third five-year term, extolled the achievements of the past five years and said the party would strive to achieve what it calls the “rejuvenation” of the nation.

“Our future is bright, but we still have a long way to go,” Xi said to the more than 2,000 delegates attending the opening, held in the massive Great Hall of the People that overlooks Tiananmen Square in the center of Beijing.

“We must foster a firmer sense of purpose, fortitude and self-belief in the whole party and the Chinese people so that we cannot be swayed by fallacies, deterred by intimidation or cowed by pressure,” he said.

A third term for Xi would break with recent precedent and further establish him as arguably the most powerful Chinese politician since Mao Zedong.

Xi called for further investments in the party’s military wing, the People’s Liberation Army, and reaffirmed that China will not rule out using force to bring the self-governing island of Taiwan under its control.

“Reunification definitely must be achieved and reunification definitely will be achieved,” he said.

Taiwan and China split during a civil war in 1949 that brought the communists to power in China. Many Taiwanese reject the term “reunification,” saying they were never part of communist China.

With Xi expected to remain, little change is foreseen in China’s economic and foreign policies, as well as in his intolerance of criticism and hardline approach to COVID-19 including quarantines and travel bans.

Xi defended the pandemic response, saying it “put the people and their lives above all else.”

The weeklong congress, the 20th in the history of the century-old party, comes as the economy is facing major headwinds from a sharp real estate slowdown, the war in Ukraine and the economic toll on tourism, retail and manufacturing from COVID-19 restrictions.

As with most Chinese political events, little information has been released beforehand and the outcome will only be announced next weekend, after days of closed-door sessions.

The congress will likely approve an amendment to its charter that could further elevate Xi’s status as leader.

The spokesperson for the congress, Sun Yeli, offered few details at a news conference Saturday. He said the changes would “meet new requirements for advancing the party’s development and work in the face of new circumstances and new tasks.”

The previous congress in 2017 incorporated Xi’s ideology, known as Xi Jinping Thought, into the party constitution. The ideology is vague but emphasizes reviving the party’s mission as China’s political, economic, social and cultural leader and its central role in achieving national rejuvenation.

Xi, who has been leader for 10 years, has already amassed great power, placing himself in charge of domestic affairs, foreign policy, the military, the economy and most other key matters through party working groups that he leads.

Under his leadership, the country has expanded its global footprint while tightening already strict controls on information and dissent. A rare public protest last week, in which banners attacking Xi and the COVID-19 policy were hung in Beijing, was quickly scrubbed from the internet and any discussion of it quashed.

Xi presented as achievements Chinese policies toward Taiwan and semi-autonomous Hong Kong that have been harshly criticized by the U.S. and other democracies.

He said that steps taken after major protests in Hong Kong in 2019 had restored order and ensured it is governed by patriots. His government imposed a national security law imposed on the city that has all but eliminated opposition voices and demands for democracy.

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