President Xi Jinping of China on Wednesday pledged to build a “modern socialist country” for a “new era” that will be proudly Chinese and steadfastly ruled by the party but open to the world.
Xi’s who opened a critical Communist Party Congress, laid out a confident vision for a more prosperous China and its place in the international community, stressing the importance of wiping out corruption and curbing industrial overcapacity, income inequality and pollution.
He made clear there were no plans for political reform, but said China’s development had entered a “new era”, a phrase he used 36 times in the nearly three-and-a-half hour speech.
“With decades of hard work, socialism with Chinese characteristics has crossed the threshold into a new era,” he said.
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 control and potentially retain power beyond 2022 when the next congress takes place.
The 64-year-old Xi, widely regarded as the most powerful Chinese leader since Mao Zedong, addressed more than 2,000 delegates in Beijing’s cavernous, red-carpeted Great Hall of the People, including 91-year-old former president Jiang Zemin.
Security was tight on a rainy, smoggy day in the capital.
On the economy, 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.
During Xi’s first term, China disappointed many expecting it to usher in more market-oriented reforms, especially in its debt-laden state sector.
“If Xi gets the political mandate that he is expected to out of the congress, then my hope is that the state sector reforms actually get done,” Damien Ma, fellow and associate director at Paulson Institute, told the Reuters Global Markets Forum.
“If not, then I would also revise my assessment of the state of reforms in China. There have been talks in Beijing that the state sector will be a focus after the ongoing 19th party congress, so we need to see.”
In what was likely an indirect reference to U.S. President Donald Trump’s “America first” policy, Xi promised 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 set bold long-term goals for China’s development, envisioning it as a “basically” modernized socialist country by 2035, and a modern socialist “strong power” with leading influence on the world stage by 2050.
He signaled there would be no significant political reforms, calling China’s system the broadest, most genuine, and most effective way to safeguard the interests of the people.
Xi has overseen a sweeping crackdown on civil society, locking up rights lawyers and dissidents and tightening internet controls as he has sought to revitalise the Communist Party and its place in contemporary China.
He said: “We should not just mechanically copy the political systems of other countries.
“We must unwaveringly uphold and improve party leadership and make the party still stronger.”