China: Xi pleads for unity behind ahead of likely third term
President Xi Jinping called for “unity” around his leadership and touted China’s rise as a world power at the opening of the Communist Party Congress on Sunday, which was to give him a historic third term.
“Unity is strength, and victory requires unity,” launched the 69-year-old leader, who in recent years has waged an impressive anti-corruption campaign that critics say is designed to purge his rivals.
To loud applause from some 2,300 party delegates gathered at the People’s Palace on Tiananmen Square in Beijing, Xi also stressed that “China’s international influence, appeal and ability to shape the world have increased significantly.”
Subject to a dramatic change, the president, who has been in power since 2012, was to be given a third five-year term at the head of the party and thus of the country.
This new coronation, expected on October 23, the day after the end of the congress, will make him the most powerful Chinese leader since the regime’s founder Mao Tse-tung (1949-1976).
For more than an hour and a half, Xi Jinping notably defended his draconian policies to combat COVID-19 and strengthen Chinese military power.
– Zero Covid and Zero Corruption –
While one of the main questions was whether or not to maintain the strict “zero-Covid” strategy inseparable from the Chinese president, Mr Xi reiterated that thanks to this policy, China has privileged human lives above all else.
China has “highly ensured people’s safety and health and achieved significant results by coordinating epidemic prevention and control with economic and social development,” he said.
This “zero Covid” policy has strengthened social control over citizens, whose movements are now all computerized, in this country already criticized on the international stage for human rights violations.
And the virtual shutdown of the country and repeated restrictions have halted economic growth and also aroused popular dissatisfaction.
In his speech, Xi Jinping also defended his anti-corruption campaign, which he said had “won a landslide victory” and eliminated “serious latent dangers within the party, state and military.”
According to official figures, at least 1.5 million people have been sanctioned since 2012 during this campaign aimed at bringing down the “tigers” (higher leaders) and the “flies” (lower officials) starving for bribes. The offensive accelerated as Congress drew near.
The Chinese president also criticized interference from “external forces” from Taiwan, an island that the Chinese regime considers part of its territory.
China will strive for a peaceful reunification of Taiwan, but will “never refrain from using force,” he threatened.
He also said Hong Kong had “moved from chaos to government” after Beijing’s heavy takeover of the territory, where huge pro-democracy protests took place in 2019.
– “Continuity” –
In his speech, which was mainly devoted to domestic issues, Mr Xi assured that his country, one of the world’s biggest polluters, would “actively” take part in the fight against global warming.
While saying that China is “firmly opposed to any form of hegemony” and “against the Cold War mentality,” Xi refrained from mentioning tensions with the United States and the war in Ukraine.
“Xi wants to pursue his own narrative,” notes Alfred Wu Muluan, associate professor of public policy at the National University of Singapore, noting that the leader “wants a fourth term and a fifth term,” well beyond 2027.
And since “he sees national security as the country’s top priority, there will be no compromise on this issue, whether it’s the South China Sea, Taiwan or Hong Kong.” “Internationally, he will remain very strong,” said Wu.
It is a discourse of “continuity,” agrees Alfred L. Chan, Xi’s biographer and professor emeritus of political science at Huron University in Canada. But “it is a very turbulent period, with the Covid crisis, the economic slowdown, the tense international situation, especially with the United States”.
The 2,300 or so delegates from the Chinese Communist Party, some of whom are wearing their traditional costumes, will appoint the new Central Committee by next Saturday.
In reality, they will only confirm decisions made upstream by the various factions of the party: this is how Xi Jinping came to power in 2012, chosen as a man of compromise between the factions, before asserting his control over the years .
A crucial point will be the composition of the future Standing Committee, that group of seven or nine figures at the highest level of power. But Mr. Xi is unlikely to give any hints about a possible successor, according to analysts.
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