BEIJING (AFP) — President Xi Jinping opened the Fifth Congress of the Communist Party of China on Sunday with a wide-ranging speech in which he defended Beijing’s zero-COVID approach, applauded its anti-corruption efforts and reiterated its ambition to absorb Taiwan by force if necessary.
The speech gave Xi the opportunity to present his government’s achievements to the nearly 2,300 delegates at the conclave ahead of his third term due later in the week.
AFP provides an overview of the main takeaways from Xi’s opening speech:
Xi took the stage at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing to thunderous applause, beginning his speech by praising the power of the Communist Party and noting that the rally came at a crucial time.
“The 20th National Congress of the Communist Party of China is a very important congress convened at a critical time,” Xi said.
PUTTING ‘LIVES FIRST’
After facing months of criticism over the impact of his country’s strict zero-COVID policy, Xi said China had “put people and their lives first” in the fight against the pandemic.
He said China has “highly safeguarded people’s safety and health and achieved significant positive results in coordinating epidemic prevention and control with social and economic development.”
Xi gave no sign that the rigid policies – which have forced millions into lockdowns for just a handful of cases while the rest of the world learns to live with the virus – will give way anytime soon.
HONG KONG AND TAIWAN
China’s growing assertiveness in the Taiwan Strait, as well as its efforts to suppress dissent in Hong Kong after pro-democracy protests in 2019, have drawn heavy criticism from Western governments.
But Xi on Sunday hailed an end to what he called “chaos” in Hong Kong while condemning “external forces” interfering in the self-governing Taiwan that China claims as its own.
“The situation in Hong Kong has achieved a great transition from chaos to governance,” he said, further promising a “great struggle against separatism and interference” in Taiwan.
He later added that “the Taiwan problem…should be solved by the Chinese people alone”.
“We (…) will never commit to renouncing the use of force and we reserve the possibility of taking all necessary measures,” Xi said in a remark, which was met with thunderous applause.
Xi told delegates his longstanding crackdown on corruption had ended “serious latent dangers” within the Communist Party, the military and the state.
“The fight against corruption has won a landslide victory and has been largely consolidated, eliminating serious latent dangers within the party, the state and the army,” he said, referring to a campaign which critics say was being used to curb internal dissent.
The Chinese president also promised that Beijing is committed to the global fight against climate change.
China will “actively engage in global governance on climate change,” Xi told delegates, pledging to reduce carbon emissions while pledging to “support clean and efficient use of coal.”
Despite pledging to reduce coal use from 2026 as part of a wide range of climate commitments, Beijing has increased spending on fossil fuels in the face of extreme weather, an energy shortage domestic and rising global fuel prices, raising concerns about its policies in the fight against climate change.
COLD WAR MENTALITY
Xi said Beijing rejects a “cold war mentality” in international diplomacy, but made no mention of troubled relations with the United States.
“China (…) resolutely opposes all forms of hegemony and power politics, opposes the Cold War mentality, opposes interference in the domestic politics of other country, opposes double standards,” he said, saying that Beijing “will never seek hegemony and itself get involved in its expansion”.
THINGS LEFT UNSAID
While the Chinese leader touched on the tense international climate in his speech, he made no particular mention of the Russian invasion of Ukraine or the major impact the conflict has had on the global economy.
He also failed to mention the situation in China’s western Xinjiang region, where Beijing faces widespread human rights abuses and more than a million Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities are held in re-education camps.
His speech also failed to address the unprecedented crisis in China’s property sector, where defaulting and indebted developers are seeing sales plummet and confidence in the housing market plummet.