Xi calls for China’s military growth as Party congress opens

BEIJING (AFP) – Chinese leader Xi Jinping on Sunday called for faster military development and declared no change in policies that have strained relations with Washington and tightened the ruling Communist Party’s grip on society and the economy.

China’s most influential figure spoke out for decades when the party opened a congress which have been closely watched by businesses, governments and the public for signs of official guidance. It comes amid a painful recession in the world’s second-largest economy and tension with Washington and Asian neighbors over trade, technology and security.

The party’s plans call for creating a prosperous society by mid-century and returning China to its historic role as a political, economic and cultural leader. Beijing has expanded its presence abroad including the Belt and Road Initiative with billions of dollars to build ports and other infrastructure across Asia and Africa, but economists warn that reversing market-style reform could stymie growth.

“The next five years will be crucial,” Xi said in a one-hour and 45-minute televised address to about 2,000 delegates in the cavernous Great Hall of the People. He frequently cited his slogan “Rejuvenate the Chinese Nation,” which includes reviving the party’s role as an economic and social leader in a return to what Xi considers a golden age after taking power in 1949.

The conference will install leaders over the next five years. Xi, 69, is expected to break tradition He granted himself a third five-year term as General Secretary and bolstered allies who shared his enthusiasm for party dominance.

Xi said the party’s military wing, the People’s Liberation Army, needs to “protect China’s dignity and core interests,” referring to a list of territorial claims and other issues on which Beijing says it is willing to go to war.

China, which has the second largest military budget in the world after the United States, is trying to expand its influence by developing ballistic missiles, aircraft carriers and outposts.

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

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Xi cited his government’s tough “zero COVID” strategy, which has shut down major cities and disrupted travel and business, as successful. He did not indicate a possible change despite public frustration with its high cost.

The Congress will appoint a permanent committee, the power’s inner governing circle. The line-up will determine who is likely to succeed Premier Li Keqiang as the top economic official and take over other posts when China’s ceremonial legislature meets next year.

Analysts are watching whether the recession that saw a decline in economic growth To less than half the official annual target of 5.5%, it could force Xi to make concessions, and it includes advocates of market-style reform and entrepreneurs that generate wealth and jobs.

He did not indicate when he might step down.

During his decade in power, Xi’s government pursued an increasingly assertive foreign policy with tighter controls at home on information and dissent.

Beijing quarrels With the governments of Japan, India, and Southeast Asia over conflicting claims to southern China, the East China Sea, and a section of the Himalayas. The United States, Japan, Australia, and India formed a strategic group called the Quartet in response.

The party has increased the dominance of the state-owned industry and poured money into strategic initiatives aimed at nurturing Chinese innovators of renewable energy, electric cars, computer chips, aerospace and other technologies.

Its tactics sparked complaints that Beijing was improperly protecting and supporting its nascent creators and led then-President Donald Trump to raise tariffs on Chinese imports in 2019, sparking a trade war that has rocked the global economy. Trump’s successor, Joe Biden, has kept those sanctions in place, and this month increased restrictions on China’s access to US chip technology.

The party has tightened its control over private sector leaders, including e-commerce giant Alibaba, through anti-trust campaigns, data security and other crackdowns. Under political pressure, they funnel billions of dollars into chip development and other partisan initiatives. Their share prices fell on foreign stock exchanges due to uncertainty about their future.

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The party tightened censorship of the media and the Internet, increased public surveillance and tightened control over private life with its “Social Credit” initiative that tracks individuals and punishes offenses ranging from fraud to littering.

Last week, banners criticizing Xi and “zero COVID” They were suspended from a high road above one of Beijing’s main roads in a rare protest. Photos of the event have been deleted from social media, and the popular messaging app WeChat has shut down the accounts it forwarded.

Xi said the party will build “self-reliance and strength” in technology by improving China’s education system and attracting foreign experts.

Willy Lam, a policy specialist at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, said the president appears to be doubling down on technology self-reliance and “zero COVID” at a time when other countries are easing travel restrictions and relying on more free-flowing supply chains. .

Joining Xi on the podium are Party leaders including his predecessor as party leader, Hu Jintao, former Premier Wen Jiabao, and Song Ping, a 105-year-old veteran party member who nurtured Xi’s early career. There was no indication that former president Jiang Zemin, aged 96, was party leader until 2002.

Lam said the presence of the former leaders shows that Xi does not face serious opposition.

“Xi has made it clear that he intends to retain power as long as his health allows him to do so,” he said.

Xi made no mention of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which Beijing refuses to criticize. He defended a crackdown on a pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong, saying the party had helped the former British colony “enter a new phase in which order has been restored and is destined to flourish”.

Xi’s government also faces criticism over mass arrests and other abuses against Muslim ethnic groups and the imprisonment of government critics.

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

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Xi said Beijing refuses to give up the potential use of force against Taiwan, the democratic, autonomous island that the Communist Party claims as its territory. The two sides split in 1949 after a civil war.

Beijing has intensified its efforts to intimidate the Taiwanese by flying fighter planes and bombers toward the island. That campaign intensified even more after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi became in August the highest-ranking US official to visit Taiwan in a quarter of a century.

“We will continue to strive for peaceful reunification,” Xi said. But we will never promise to give up the use of force. We reserve the option to take all necessary measures.”

Taiwan’s government responded that its 23 million people had the right to decide 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 in the 1990s agreed to limit the position of general secretary to two five-year terms in an effort to prevent a recurrence of power struggles from previous decades. This commander also becomes the head of the committee that controls the army and holds the ceremonial title of national president.

Xi made his intentions clear in 2018 when a two-term limit was removed from China’s constitution. Officials said that allowed Xi to stay in if needed to make reforms.

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

Conference spokesman, Sun Yeli, said on Saturday The changes would “meet the new requirements to advance the development of the party” but did not give details.

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