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Chinese President Xi Jinping appointed for third term at Communist Party Congress

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HONG KONG — Chinese officials, who gathered this week for the country’s most important political event in recent years, face an increasingly turbulent picture at home and abroad. But the theme of the event is continuity – President Xi Jinping being the leader and with it the possibility of friction with the US-led West.

Xi, China’s most powerful leader in decades, is set to secure an unprecedented third term at the biannual National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party in Beijing this week.

In his keynote address to the convention on Sunday, Xi gave no indication that China, which the United States and its allies see as its main global rivals, would change course on issues such as Taiwan, Hong Kong and its strict “zero Covid” policy. But he also anticipated challenges and promised that China would not shy away from competition or confrontation.

“We must strengthen our sense of challenge, stick to the core thinking, prepare for danger in times of peace, prepare for a rainy day, and be prepared to withstand the great tests of high winds and high waves,” Xi said. Approximately 2,300 delegates in the Great Hall of the People.

In his speech at the opening of Sunday’s party congress, Xi said China “must be prepared to withstand the great tests of high winds and high waves”. Ju Peng/AP

During the week-long congress, Xi is expected to receive a third five-year term as general secretary of the ruling Communist Party of China and head of the country’s armed forces. (His third title, president of China, won’t be renewed until next spring.) He could even be called “party chief,” a title previously given to Mao Zedong, who ruled the People’s Republic of China only 27 years later. It was established in 1949.

Richard McGregor, senior fellow for East Asia at the Lowy Institute in Sydney, Australia, said Xi’s lack of surprises reflected his general confidence in his speech.

“He is confident in his control over the party, his control over the direction of politics,” he said. “Whether he’s confident about the economy and the impact of Covid-19, who knows.”

Xi faces a number of issues that will make his third term unlike the first two, not least the economic slowdown spurred by the real estate crisis and the “zero-Covid” restrictions that officials say are necessary to keep the healthcare system from being overwhelmed. On the global stage, China’s relations with the US, Europe and Australia are at their lowest point in years due to economic rivalries, tensions in the Taiwan Strait and differences in Russia’s war in Ukraine.

Rather than dwelling on these issues, Xi’s speech emphasized national security issues and past achievements.

“Under the leadership of President Xi, China has made great strides forward in the past 10 years,” said Wang Huiyao, a former adviser to the State Council, China’s highest governing body, and head of the country’s China Center and Globalization think tank. , aforementioned. “These achievements have certainly strengthened the president’s leadership.”

According to Xi, China’s gross domestic product more than doubled to $17.7 trillion. According to World Bank data, the number of people living in rural poverty fell from 82 million in 2013 to 6 million in 2019, while the number of mainland Chinese billionaires as measured by Forbes magazine rose from 113 in 2012 to 539 in 2022. 735th in the United States. China has also greatly expanded its infrastructure, more than quadrupling its high-speed rail network to nearly 25,000 miles – more than the rest of the world combined.

Along with its progress at home, China has increased its footprint abroad, trying to project soft power and expand trade and other alliances, while also making aggressive moves in the South China Sea, where there are territorial disputes with multiple countries. China’s annual defense budget has more than doubled to $230 billion as Xi accelerated the modernization of its military and increased the number of aircraft carriers from one to three in America’s 11. The country also has an ambitious space program, spacecraft landing on the moon. and in recent years nearing completion on Mars and its own space station.

But Xi has made China more authoritarian, consolidated power in his own hands, increased state surveillance, and forcibly crushed the opposition. He led a campaign of abuse against the Uighurs and other ethnic minorities in the western region of Xinjiang that the US and others have said amounted to genocide. Chinese authorities deny these allegations, saying they are fighting terrorism and that large detention camps housing Uyghurs and other minorities are vocational and training centers.

In China’s Hong Kong region, critics say a 2020 Beijing-imposed national security law erodes civil liberties, chills expression and virtually eliminates political opposition. After months of anti-government protests in 2019, the Chinese government said a national security law was necessary to restore order in Hong Kong.

Xi pushed aside his political opponents and sought to weave his views on Chinese socialism into everyday life through the “Thought of Xi Jinping,” taught from elementary school and fiercely scrutinized by the authorities. Experts expect Xi to remain in office since China abolished the traditional two-term presidency in 2018.

Xi Jinping
Born in Beijing in 1953, Xi enjoyed a privileged youth as the second son of Xi Zhongxun, a Chinese communist revolutionary. Pictured here in 1988.Xinhua/AP file

Yaqiu Wang, a senior China researcher at Human Rights Watch, sees Xi’s third term as a tragedy.

“It’s devastating, especially for someone born in the 1980s, because we grew up in a country that has become more prosperous and more liberal,” said Wang, who was born and raised in China. “You felt things were getting better, people felt empowered, and they felt a sense of pride.”

Now “human rights – in every respect – have gotten dramatically worse,” he added.

Growing authoritarianism in China has global implications, as Xi presents his model of governance as an alternative to democracy.

“He wants to reflect the view that China is a force for stability, but that’s a stabilization force different from the US vision,” said Ja Ian Chong, associate professor of political science at the National University of Singapore.

International flash points

Jinghan Zeng, professor of Chinese and international studies at Lancaster University in the UK, said that something missing from Xi’s résumé is an era-defining achievement that symbolizes his legacy.

While Deng Xiaoping, China’s foremost leader in the 1970s and 80s, advocated overhauling and opening up the country’s economy, Mao himself established the Communist state. Xi did not hide his desire to unite China with Taiwan, a self-governing island that Beijing claims is its territory.

“If Xi Jinping wants to be seen as a leader equivalent to Chairman Mao, how will he justify it?” said Zeng. “If you look around you won’t see anything that will really work – “except reunification with Taiwan.”

A Chinese soldier during combat exercises in the waters around Taiwan in August.Via Xinhua News Agency/Getty Images

In his speech on Sunday, Xi reiterated his opposition to Taiwan’s independence and criticized the interference of “foreign powers”.

“We continue to strive for the hope of peaceful reunification with the greatest sincerity,” he said. However, there is no commitment to abandon the use of force and the option to take all necessary measures is reserved.

Taiwan, never ruled by the Chinese Communist Party, responded by warning Beijing against “acts of coercion and aggression.”

“The 23 million people in Taiwan alone have the right to decide the future,” the Mainland Affairs Council said in a statement.

President Joe Biden said the United States would take steps to protect Taiwan in the event of an invasion – a democracy and a major microchip maker – increasing the likelihood of a direct military confrontation between Washington and Beijing. While Xi has greatly increased the pressure on Taiwan, several experts believe he will wield significant force against the island over the next five years, according to a survey published last month by the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington-based think tank.

Another flashpoint in China’s international relations is Russia’s war in Ukraine, although Xi did not directly mention it in his speech. Beijing and Moscow have forged closer ties over the past year, and Xi has refrained from condemning Russia’s actions.

Security guards stand guard after the opening ceremony of the party congress in Beijing’s Great Hall of the People on Sunday. Mark Schiefelbein/AP

Xi, 69, is long past the age at which Chinese officials traditionally retire. The structure of the new Politburo Standing Committee, China’s top governing body, may provide clues about potential successors: anyone who has come out from behind Xi and is not yet very old. If no one fits this profile, it will be seen as a sign that Xi intends to stay in power indefinitely.

“Before Xi Jinping became president in 2012, there was a lot of wishful thinking in the West that he would become a pro-liberal leader,” Zeng said. “It would be equally wrong to think that he will change course in his third term now, as he did then.”

According to Stephanie Carvin, an associate professor of international relations at Carleton University in Ottawa, Ontario, Xi sees China as a rising power and his worldview is shaped by great power competition. That means tensions with the United States and most of its allies are unlikely to ease any time soon.

“President Xi’s long-term goals and general attitudes in the West will make it very difficult for us to cooperate further in his third term,” he said. “We have been on this path for close to ten years.”