China’s Xi lays out firm nationalist agenda as parliament ends

President Xi Jinping says China has ‘a strong determination to take our place in the world’

Chinese president Xi Jinping delivers a speech during the closing session of the National People’s Congress at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on Tuesday. Photograph: AFP/Getty Images.

Chinese president Xi Jinping delivers a speech during the closing session of the National People’s Congress at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on Tuesday. Photograph: AFP/Getty Images.

 

China’s emboldened president Xi Jinping laid out a hardline nationalist agenda as he closed the country’s annual parliament on Tuesday, saying China was ready to “fight bloody battles” to ensure its rightful place in the world.

Mr Xi’s speech was meant as a closing statement to the largely ceremonial National People’s Congress, which abolished term limits on his leadership and gave Mr Xi the kind of power not seen since the days of the People’s Republic of China’s founder, Mao Zedong.

Instead he used his first speech at the start of his second term to make a strong statement of intent, couched in Marxist-Leninist rhetoric and steeped in populism, referring constantly to the people as the source of his power.

“We are resolved to fight the bloody battle against our enemies . . . with a strong determination to take our place in the world,” Mr Xi told nearly 3,000 delegates gathered in the red flag-bedecked Great Hall of the People in Beijing.

To rapturous applause, Mr Xi told the Communist Party faithful in the cavernous chamber that “rejuvenation of the Chinese nation has become the biggest dream of the Chinese people”.

“The endeavour of the Chinese people has led to a tremendous transformation of the Chinese nation: it has stood up, grown rich, and is becoming strong!” Mr Xi said.

‘Helmsman’

Some of his critics say that his leadership style harkens back to the imperial era, and that, like Mao, he wants to focus all power in the country around himself as an emperor-like figure. Certainly there are enough references in state media propaganda to Mr Xi as “helmsman”, echoing the descriptions of Mao as the “Great Helmsman”.

During the 40-minute address he hailed China’s achievements through history, including the construction of the Great Wall and the invention of paper.

He also pledged to “follow the guide of Marxism-Leninism” and other philosophical constructs in the constitution, including “Mao Zedong Thought, Deng Xiaoping Theory, the Theory of Three Represents, the Scientific Outlook on Development, and the Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era.”

He also warned those attempting to declare independence for self-ruled Taiwan that they would face “the punishment of history”.

China considers Taiwan an inviolable part of its territory and suspects that its president, Tsai Ing-wen, wants to declare independence, although she has stated she backs maintaining the status quo.

“Any actions and tricks to split China are doomed to failure and will be condemned by the people and punished by history,” Mr Xi said.

US exchanges

China was angered by legislation introduced by Donald Trump which encourages exchange visits by high-ranking US and Taiwanese officials, thereby raising the island’s diplomatic status.

While the US does not have formal diplomatic ties with Taiwan, it is required by law to help defend the island if it is ever invaded.

“It is a shared aspiration of all Chinese people and in their basic interests to safeguard China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity and realise China’s complete reunification,” Mr Xi said.

On democracy activists in Hong Kong, he said China would uphold the former colony’s high degree of autonomy but also “national consciousness and patriotic spirit”.