Chinese President Xi Jinping opened a critical Communist Party Congress on Wednesday with a pledge to build a “modern socialist country” for a “new era” that will be proudly Chinese, steadfastly ruled by the party but open to the world.
Chinese President Xi Jinping arrives for the opening of the 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China October 18, 2017. REUTERS/Jason Lee
Xi’s wide-ranging speech, which ran nearly three-and-a-half hours, laid out a confident vision for an increasingly prosperous China and its place in the world, stressing the importance of wiping out corruption and making clear there were no plans for political reform.
“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.
The twice-a-decade congress, a week-long, mostly closed-door conclave, 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.
Xi 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.
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 U.S. President Donald Trump’s “America first” policy, that China would be fully engaged with the world, and reiterated pledges to tackle climate change.
“No country can alone address the many challenges facing mankind; no country can afford to retreat into self-isolation,” Xi told the delegates, among them Buddhist monks, Olympic medalists, farmers and at least one astronaut.
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.
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.”