HONG KONG–Chinese leader
shook off concerns over Covid-19, a sluggish economy and troubled ties with the U.S. to offer a robust defense of his decadelong rule, calling on his Communist Party to battle through adversity and reclaim China’s place as a major force in human development.
In a Sunday speech, opening a Communist Party congress in Beijing where he is set to defy recent norms and claim a third term as party chief, Mr. Xi recalled his efforts to curb corruption, rally public support for the party and champion China’s political system as a counterweight to Western liberal democracy.
A campaign of “self-revolution,” marked by forceful crackdowns on corruption and political dissent, Mr. Xi said, has “ensured that the party will never change in quality, change its color, or change its flavor”—party parlance for threats to Communist Party rule in China.
He also claimed significant successes in fighting Covid-19, enforcing order in Hong Kong and curtailing what he called separatist activism in the island democracy of Taiwan, which Beijing claims as its territory.
Looking ahead, Mr. Xi renewed his promise of a new era of “common prosperity,” in which the party exercises greater control over private capital and distributes China’s wealth more evenly. Such efforts have unnerved entrepreneurs at home and investors from abroad after sweeping regulatory crackdowns on Chinese tech giants and private businesses in recent years.
The Chinese leader trumpeted what he called “Chinese-style modernization,” doubling down on his program of party-led economic planning and development. He reiterated calls for ensuring China’s economic self-reliance, urging more indigenous efforts to develop high-end technologies that can serve the nation’s strategic needs.
Since taking power in late 2012, Mr. Xi has assumed a degree of autocratic authority unseen since the Mao Zedong era and upended recent retirement practices to allow himself to stay in office indefinitely.
By taking a third term as party chief, the 69-year-old would depart from the decadelong leadership cycle that his predecessor set and dismantle succession norms designed to prevent a return to a Mao-style dictatorship. Political analysts expect Mr. Xi to promote protégés and allies into senior party roles and thereby cement his political supremacy.
Mr. Xi devoted much of his speech emphasizing how his party aligns itself with the Chinese people. The party has in recent years increasingly described Mr. Xi as renmin lingxiu, or “people’s leader,” a designation that echoes an accolade most closely associated with Mao. “The country is the people, and the people are the country,” Mr. Xi said. “We must realize, maintain and develop the fundamental interests of the vast majority of the people.”
Write to Chun Han Wong at [email protected]
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