China’s Xi downplays want for speedy progress and hails Covid achievements

China’s President Xi Jinping will open the ruling party’s 20th National Congress, which is held every five years, on October 16, 2022 with an opening speech at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing. The week-long event is intended to pave the way for him to remain in office for an unprecedented third five-year term.

Noël Celis | AFP | Getty Images

BEIJING — Chinese President Xi Jinping on Sunday reiterated the country’s recent shift away from rapid growth and a greater focus on national self-sufficiency, particularly in technology.

Xi was speaking at the opening ceremony of the ruling Chinese Communist Party’s 20th National Congress, held every five years. His 2017 speech had started with many discussions about China’s economic growth.

In contrast, Xi began Sunday’s remarks with a stronger emphasis on China’s “national rejuvenation” and opposition to Taiwan independence.

Xi briefly mentioned in this opening paragraph how the country’s Covid policy has produced “positive results” in coordination with economic developments. He did not say whether the policy would end or continue.

China’s Covid controls helped the country quickly get back on track for growth in 2020. But the controversial “zero-Covid” policy has become increasingly stringent this year, prompting investment banks to repeatedly cut growth estimates for China.

Looking ahead, Xi stressed that the country needs a solid technological foundation to achieve its modernization goals. Some areas he mentioned were increasing the quality of Chinese-made products, the country’s space transportation capabilities, and digital development.

“Without solid material and technological foundations, we cannot hope to build a great modern socialist country,” Xi said in Chinese, according to an official English translation.

Since the party’s 19th National Congress, the US has increased its pressure on China. The Biden administration has labeled China a strategic competitor and this month announced new semiconductor export controls in an effort to maintain the US technological lead over China.

Xi did not mention any specific countries in his nearly two-hour speech.

However, he devoted a section to noting how the country would emphasize education to develop its own talent in science and accelerate the launch of national projects with “strategic” and “long-term importance”. He did not give any further details.

He also did not completely omit growth plans. Xi said the country will aim to boost productivity, make its supply chains more resilient and boost overall economic output.

“High quality development”

The speech generally laid out a framework for Xi’s short-term plan for China, which is to “essentially achieve socialist modernization” between the years 2020 and 2035.

He described previous achievements – building the world’s second-largest economy and becoming a “major destination for global investment” – as achievements already on the books.

The Chinese Communist Party has already announced 100-year development goals – to “build a moderately prosperous society in every respect” by 2021 and “to build a modern socialist country that is prosperous, strong, democratic, culturally advanced and harmonious” by 2049.

Xi’s list of “essential requirements” for Chinese modernization began with maintaining Chinese Communist Party leadership, followed by “high-quality development.”

The list included achieving shared prosperity – moderate prosperity for all, not just a few – and “harmony between man and nature”.

China’s Xi previously announced plans to achieve carbon peaks by 2030 and carbon neutrality in 2060.

Analysts have attributed China’s renewed emphasis on shared prosperity over the past year to a crackdown on internet tech companies and after-school education companies. These measures, on top of China’s Covid controls, have made foreign investors increasingly wary of potential growth opportunities in the country.

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On Sunday, Xi spoke of promoting a “healthy” online environment. He said the country would encourage getting rich through hard work and expanding its middle class. He pointed out that China will standardize an unspecified mechanism for wealth accumulation.

He didn’t specifically address China’s ongoing real estate problems, but repeated earlier comments about accelerating measures to boost home purchases and rentals.

Xi warned of “dangerous storms” in the upcoming trip and called for a commitment to party leadership, “reform and opening-up” and other principles.

Having led the Chinese Communist Party and the country for the past decade, Xi is widely expected to further consolidate his power at the party’s 20th National Congress. The names of the new core team around Xi are to be announced next weekend.

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