BEIJING: Chinese President Xi Jinping on Sunday (Oct 16) touted the fight against COVID-19 and called for accelerating the building of a world-class military as he opened the twice-a-decade Communist Party Congress, reiterating largely the key political priorities.
In a speech that lasted less than two hours, much shorter than his nearly three-and-a-half-hour speech at the last congress in 2017, Xi reaffirmed his support for the private sector and allowed markets to play a key role, even as China fine-tunes a “socialist economic system” and promotes “common prosperity”.
The biggest applause came when he reaffirmed his opposition to Taiwan independence.
Xi is widely expected to win a third leadership term at the end of the week-long congress, cementing his place as the country’s most powerful ruler since Mao Zedong.
The gathering of some 2,300 delegates from across the country kicked off in the great Great Hall of the People on the west side of Tiananmen Square amid tight security and under blue skies after several days of smog in the Chinese capital.
In recent days, Beijing has repeatedly emphasized its commitment to Xi’s zero-COVID strategy, dashing hopes among countless Chinese citizens and investors that Beijing could soon begin to exit a policy that has caused widespread frustration and economic damage.
Xi said little about COVID, other than to reiterate the validity of a policy that has made China a global outlier as much of the world tries to coexist with the coronavirus.
“We have adhered to the supremacy of the people and the supremacy of life, we have adhered to the zero-COVID dynamic… and we have achieved significant positive results in the overall prevention and control of the epidemic and economic and social development.” Xi said.
He described China as a country that puts “people and their lives first” and wins international praise when it comes to dealing with the pandemic.
On Taiwan, Xi said: “We have resolutely waged a great fight against separatism and interference, demonstrating our strong determination and ability to safeguard state sovereignty and territorial integrity and oppose Taiwan independence.”
Delegates, wearing blue masks, responded with loud and prolonged applause.
Xi said that it is solely up to the Chinese people to solve the Taiwan issue and that China will never give up the right to use force.
“We will adhere to striving for the prospect of peaceful reunification with the utmost sincerity and efforts, but we will never commit to abandoning the use of force and will reserve the option of taking all necessary measures,” Xi said.
That option is aimed at “interference” by outside forces and a “very small number” of supporters of Taiwan independence rather than the vast majority of the Taiwanese people, he said, adding that China has always “respected, cared for and benefited “to the people of Taiwan. .
China sees democratically governed Taiwan as its own territory, despite strong objections from the Taipei government, which rejects claims of sovereignty and says only the island’s people have the right to decide its future.
Tensions rose dramatically in August after China staged war games near Taiwan following a visit to Taipei by US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Those military activities have continued albeit at a reduced pace.
“The historical wheels of national reunification and national rejuvenation are moving forward,” Xi said on Sunday. “The reunification of the motherland must be achieved and will be achieved.”