Chinese Communist Party Congress opens with Xi Jinping calling for military growth

chinese leader Xi Jinping on Sunday called for faster military development and announced no changes to policies that have strained relations with Washington and tightened the ruling Communist Party’s control over society and the economy.

China’s most influential figure in decades spoke as party opened a congress which has been closely watched by businesses, governments and the public for signs of official direction. It comes amid a painful collapse in the world’s second-largest economy and tensions with Washington and its Asian neighbors over trade, technology and security.

The party’s plans call for creating a prosperous society by mid-century and restoring China to its historic role as a political, economic and cultural leader. Beijing has expanded its overseas presence, including a multibillion-dollar Belt and Road Initiative to build ports and other infrastructure in Asia and Africa, but economists warn that the reversal of the market-type reform could hamper growth.

“The next five years will be crucial,” Xi said in an hour and 45-minute televised address to some 2,000 delegates in the cavernous Great Hall of the People. He has repeatedly invoked his slogan of “rejuvenating the Chinese nation,” which includes reviving the party’s role as economic and social leader in a return to what Xi sees as a golden age after taking over. power in 1949.

APTOPIX Chinese Party Congress
Delegates applaud after a speech by Chinese President Xi Jinping during the opening ceremony of the 20th National Congress of China’s ruling Communist Party at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, Sunday, October 16, 2022.

Mark Schiefelbein/AP

The congress will install leaders for the next five years. Xi, 69, is expected to break with tradition and grant himself a third five-year term as general secretary and promote allies who share his enthusiasm for party dominance.

The party’s military wing, the People’s Liberation Army, must ‘safeguard China’s dignity and fundamental interests’, Xi said, referring to a list of territorial claims and other issues Beijing says ready to go to war.

China, with the world’s second largest military budget after the United States, is trying to expand its reach by developing ballistic missiles, aircraft carriers and overseas outposts.

“We will work faster to modernize military theory, personnel and weapons,” Xi said. “We will strengthen the strategic capabilities of the army.”

Xi cited the severity of his government “zero-COVID‘, which shut down major cities and disrupted travel and business, as a success. He gave no indication of a possible change despite public frustration at its rising cost.

Congress will appoint a standing committee, the inner circle of power. The line-up will indicate who is likely to succeed Premier Li Keqiang as top economic official and take on other posts when China’s ceremonial legislature convenes next year.

Analysts are investigating whether a recession that has seen economic growth fall below half of the official annual target of 5.5% could force Xi to compromise and include proponents of market-style reform and entrepreneurs who generate wealth and jobs.

Xi gave no indication of when he might step down.

During its decade in power, Xi’s government has pursued an increasingly assertive foreign policy while tightening domestic control over information and dissent.

Beijing is squabbling with the governments of Japan, India and Southeast Asia over conflicting claims to the South China and East China Seas and part of the Himalayas. The United States, Japan, Australia and India formed a strategic group dubbed the Quad in response.

The party has increased the dominance of state-owned industry and invested money in strategic initiatives to support Chinese creators of renewable energy, electric cars, computer chips, aerospace and other technologies.

His tactics sparked complaints that Beijing improperly protects and subsidizes its fledgling creators and led then-President Donald Trump to raise tariffs on Chinese imports in 2019, sparking a trade war that rocked the world. ‘Mondial economy. Trump’s successor, Joe Biden, kept those sanctions in place and this month increased restrictions on Chinese access to American chip technology.

The party has tightened control over private sector leaders, including e-commerce giant Alibaba Group, by launching anti-monopoly, data security and other crackdowns. Under political pressure, they divert billions of dollars to chip development and other party initiatives. The prices of their shares in overseas markets have plunged due to uncertainty about their future.

The party has stepped up media and internet censorship, increased public surveillance and tightened privacy controls through its “social credit” initiative that tracks individuals and punishes offenses ranging from fraud to littering.

Last week, banners criticizing Xi and “zero COVID” were hung on an elevated causeway above a major thoroughfare in Beijing in a rare protest. Photos from the event have been removed from social media, and popular messaging app WeChat has shut down accounts that forwarded them.

Xi said the party would enhance the “self-reliance and strength” of technology by improving China’s education system and attracting foreign experts.

The president appeared to be doubling down on his technological autonomy and “zero COVID” at a time when other countries are easing travel restrictions and relying on smoother supply chains, said Willy Lam, a policy expert at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. .

Xi was joined on stage by party leaders, including his predecessor as party leader Hu Jintao, former premier Wen Jiabao and Song Ping, a 105-year-old party veteran who sponsored Xi’s early career. Xi. There was no sign of former President Jiang Zemin, 96, who served as party leader until 2002.

The presence of former leaders shows that Xi faces no serious opposition, Lam said.

“Xi makes it very clear that he intends to hold on to power for as long as his health allows,” he said.

Xi made no mention of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, which Beijing refuses to criticize. He defended the crackdown on a pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong, saying the party had helped the former British colony “to enter a new stage in which it has restored order and is ready to prosper”.

Xi’s government has also come under fire for mass detentions and other abuses against predominantly Muslim ethnic groups and the imprisonment of government critics.

Amnesty International has warned that extending Xi’s term in power would be a “human rights disaster”. In addition to conditions in China, he pointed to Beijing’s efforts to “redefine the very meaning of human rights” at the United Nations.

Xi said Beijing refused to back down from a possible use of force against Taiwan, the self-governing island democracy the Communist Party claims as its territory. The two parts separated in 1949 after a civil war.

Beijing has stepped up its efforts to intimidate the Taiwanese by flying fighter jets and bombers to the island. That campaign intensified further after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in August became the highest-ranking U.S. official to visit Taiwan in a quarter-century.

“We will continue to strive for peaceful reunification,” Xi said. “But we will never promise to renounce the use of force. And we reserve the possibility of taking all necessary measures.”

Taiwan’s government responded that its 23 million people had the right to determine their own future and would not accept Beijing’s demands. A government statement called on China to “abandon the imposition of a political framework and the use of military force and coercion”.

The Communist Party leadership agreed in the 1990s to limit the general secretary to two five-year terms in an effort to prevent a repeat of the power struggles of previous decades. This chief also becomes president of the commission which controls the army and holds the ceremonial title of national president.

Xi made his intentions clear in 2018 when he removed the two-term limit on the presidency from the Chinese constitution. Officials said this allowed Xi to stay if necessary to carry out reforms.

The party is expected to amend its charter this week to elevate Xi’s status as leader after adding his personal ideology, Xi Jinping Thought, at the previous congress in 2017.

Congress spokesman Sun Yeli said on Saturday the changes would “meet new requirements to advance the party’s development” but gave no details.