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POSTED | 16:51 PM | 18-10-2017

Xi declares ‘new era’ for China as party congress opens

President Xi Jinping declared China is entering a “new era” of challenges and opportunities on Wednesday (Oct 18, 2017) as he opened a Communist Party congress expected to enhance his already formidable power, AFP reported.

Xi told some 2,300 delegates at the imposing Great Hall of the People that the party must “resolutely oppose” any actions that undermine its leadership as it steers a course through a high-stakes period in its development.

“The situation both domestic and abroad is undergoing profound and complex changes,” said Xi, who is expected to secure a second five-year term as general secretary and stack leadership positions with loyalists during the twice-a-decade congress.

“China’s development is still in a stage of important strategic opportunities. The prospects are bright, but the challenges are also severe,” he said in a marathon speech that exceeded three hours and was met by waves of applause.

“Socialism with Chinese characteristics has entered a new era.”
 
Speaking in front of a massive hammer and sickle, Xi touted his nationalistic “China dream” slogan, vowed to open the economy, promised to win the fight against poverty, and warned he would continue a “zero tolerance” campaign against corruption.

“Every one of us in the party must do more to uphold party leadership and the Chinese socialist system and resolutely oppose all statements and actions that undermine, distort or negate them,” he said.

Considered China’s most powerful leader since Deng Xiaoping or even Mao Zedong, Xi could use the congress to lay the foundation to stay atop the 89-million-strong party even longer than the normal 10 years, according to analysts.

That would break the unwritten two-term limit accepted by his immediate predecessors Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao -- who were by Xi’s side at the congress -- and end the era of “collective leadership” aimed at preventing the emergence of another Mao.

Another signal of Xi’s rise to the pantheon of Chinese leadership would be if his name is added to the party constitution, an honour that has only been bestowed upon modern China’s founder, Mao, and the father of economic reforms, Deng.

Potential rivals have been swept aside under Xi’s vast anti-corruption drive, which punished 1.3 million Communist Party officials over five years.

Xi said the campaign has been “unswervingly fighting against ‘tigers’, ‘beating flies’, ‘hunting foxes’ -- terms used for lower- and higher-ranking officials, as well as those who have fled abroad.

His rise has also been marked by a relentless crackdown on dissent, with authorities even refusing to free Nobel peace prize laureate Liu Xiaobo as he lay dying of cancer in July.

On other fronts, Xi touted efforts to complete the army’s modernization by 2035 and build artificial islands in the disputed South China Sea.

In a stern warning to self-ruled Taiwan, which Beijing considers a rebel province, Xi said China has the “ability to defeat separatist attempts for Taiwan independence in any form.”

Xi, who has championed globalisation in the face of President Donald Trump’s “America First” policies, vowed to further open up China’s economy.

Foreign companies complain that Xi’s words have not been backed by deeds, as the state retains control over the economy.

US and European firms report being barred from certain sectors and forced to share their technologies with local competitors.

Trump, who will visit Beijing next month, has launched a trade investigation into China’s intellectual property practices.

Xi said China “will not close its doors to the world, we will only become more and more open,” and pledged to “protect the legitimate rights and interests of foreign investors.”

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