Xi Jinping gathers China’s Communist Party at the opening of the Five-Year Congress

President Xi Jinping has called on the 97 million members of the Chinese Communist Party to brace themselves for a “critical time” in the country’s history as he inaugurated a congress that will cement his status as the country’s most powerful ruler since revolutionary hero Mao Zedong .

In a nearly two-hour speech at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on Sunday, Xi said the “Party’s mission is incomparably glorious” as he outlined goals ranging from “all-out people’s war” against the Covid-19 pandemic to realization the unification of China and Taiwan.

In one of the speech’s biggest applause lines, Xi pledged that the party, which celebrated its centenary last year and has been in power since 1949, “will never renounce the use of force.” [to achieve unification] and will take all necessary measures to stop all separatist movements”.

“The resolution of the Taiwan issue is a matter for the Chinese people themselves and must be decided by the Chinese people,” Xi said. Without specifically mentioning the US, he added that the party will fight “protectionism and bullying” by other nations.

“This sends a clear message to Taiwan and the US,” said Sonny Lo, a Hong Kong-based political analyst. “China is determined to resolve the Taiwan issue within the next decade.”

The one-week congress ends on October 22nd, one day later the new management team will be presented. Xi’s reappointment to a third term as party leader and head of China’s military is widely viewed as a fait accompli, despite a series of controversial policies that have dramatically slowed growth in the world’s second-largest economy and severely strained China’s relations with the US and China his allies.

Xi is set to be named president for the third time at the next annual session of China’s parliament in March.

The party congress will also usher in a new 200-member Central Committee, a Politburo composed of the party’s top 25 officials, and a seven-seat Politburo Standing Committee headed by Xi.

Ahead of this week’s Congress, the party’s leading media reiterated the importance of maintaining Xi’s controversial zero-Covid policy, which has minimized deaths from the virus by forcing draconian shutdowns to contain even small outbreaks. Health officials also boasted this week that they now have the ability to test 1 billion people a day for the virus.

The Xi government has consistently obstructed international efforts to investigate the early spread of the pandemic, which broke out in central Hubei Province in January 2020 and has claimed more than 6.5 million lives worldwide, according to the World Health Organization. Beijing initially downplayed the severity of the outbreak and has since tried to spread disinformation about its origins.

Only two of Xi’s six colleagues on the Politburo Standing Committee will retire, in accordance with an unofficial rule that members aged 68 or older cannot be reappointed to the party’s most powerful body — a policy that is not applies to the party leader.

But the age limit could be lowered to 67, forcing two other officials to resign, including Premier Li Keqiang. Li has been overshadowed over the past decade by Xi, who has usurped most of the authority exercised by previous premiership.

Li was considered one of Xi’s biggest rivals for party leadership until 2007, when Xi’s status as leader of the party was confirmed.

Congress will position Xi, 69, as party and military leader until at least 2027. Health permitting, it’s possible he could keep both posts until at least 2032, when he turns 79 – the same age as US President Joe Biden is now.

Only one of Xi’s two living predecessors, Hu Jintao, attended the opening of the congress on Sunday. Jiang Zemin, who is 96 years old and in poor health, did not attend.

In the early years of their respective party leaderships, Hu and Jiang were constrained by powerful predecessors. That was not the case for Xi, amid widespread perceptions that Hu was a weak leader presiding over a “lost decade” marked by rampant corruption and environmental degradation.

“We have won an overwhelming victory against corruption and eliminated serious hidden dangers within the party, state and military,” Xi said, adding that only continuous “self-revolution” can ensure the party stays in power.

Additional reporting by Xinning Liu and Nian Liu in Beijing and Thomas Hale in Shanghai

Video: China’s invisible war for strategic influence

https://www.ft.com/content/fbf1e847-01c8-4864-bd67-0258cb2e9dca Xi Jinping gathers China’s Communist Party at the opening of the Five-Year Congress

Adam Bradshaw

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