President Xi Jinping made a pledge on Wednesday to transform China into a modern socialist country, vowing to counter challenges, ranging from corruption, climate change and Taiwan’s separatist drive.
During the opening of the twice-a-decade Communist Party Congress, he painted a vision of a “new era” that will be proudly Chinese, steadfastly ruled by the party but open to the world.
“Through a long period of hard work, socialism with Chinese characteristics has entered a new era, this is a new historical direction in our country’s development,” Xi said, using the term “new era” 36 times.
In his nearly three-and-a-half hours speech, Xi envisioned China developing into a “basically” modernized socialist country by 2035, becoming one of the world’s most innovative countries with the income gap between urban and rural residents significantly reduced, and its environmental woes fundamentally eliminated.
By 2050, Xi said, China would become a modern socialist “strong power” with leading influence on the world stage.
But he signaled there would be no political reforms.
The Communist Party Congress is a week-long, mostly closed-door conclave that will culminate with the selection of a new Politburo Standing Committee that will rule China’s 1.4 billion people for the next five years, with Xi expected to consolidate his grasp on power.
He addressed more than 2,000 delegates in Beijing’s cavernous Great Hall of the People, including 91-year-old former President Jiang Zemin, under tight security on a rainy, smoggy morning.
China’s political system was the broadest, most genuine, and most effective way to safeguard the fundamental interests of the people, said Xi, who has overseen a sweeping crackdown on civil society, locking up rights lawyers and dissidents.
“We should not just mechanically copy the political systems of other countries,” he said. “We must unwaveringly uphold and improve party leadership and make the party still stronger.”
Xi praised the party’s successes, particularly his high-profile anti-graft campaign, which has seen more than a million officials punished and dozens of former senior officials jailed, and warned the campaign would never end as corruption was the “gravest threat” the party faces.
“We must remain as firm as a rock in our resolve to build on the overwhelming momentum and secure a sweeping victory,” Xi said.
On Taiwan’s separatist drive, he stressed that Beijing has the will and power to thwart any attempts at independence.
Beijing claims Taiwan as its own.
Xi warned that China has “the resolve, the confidence, and the ability to defeat separatist attempts for Taiwan independence in any form”.
“We will never allow anyone, any organization, or any political party, at any time or in any form, to separate any part of Chinese territory from China,” he said.
Taiwan’s mainland affairs council called the Communist Party congress’ comments “regrettable”, saying “China cannot win over the people” through its “one China” policy.
Ties between Taiwan and China have turned increasingly frosty since the election of Tsai Ing-wen as president last year.
Beijing cut off official communication with her government shortly after it took office due to her refusal to publicly accept the “one China” concept.
The two sides split after a civil war in 1949, and while Taiwan sees itself as a sovereign nation, it has never formally declared independence.
Xi made no mention of independence movements in China’s semi-autonomous city Hong Kong.
Beijing has tightened control over the city’s affairs in response to high-profile calls for democracy that have increasingly turned to calls for self-determination or even full independence.
On the economic front, Xi said China would relax market access for foreign investment, expand access to its services sector and deepen market-oriented reform of its exchange rate and financial system, while at the same time strengthening state firms, he said.
As expected, the speech was heavy on aspiration and short on specific measures, but during Xi’s first term, China disappointed many expecting it to usher in more market-oriented reforms.
Xi promised, in what was likely an indirect reference to US President Donald Trump’s “America first” policy, that China would be fully engaged with the world, and reiterated pledges to tackle climate change.