Beijing, China: President Xi Jinping declared open the 19th Congress of the Communist Party of China (CPC), the ruling party in the country, saying China is entering a “new era” of challenges and opportunities. The Congress is a twice-a-decade political meeting to reshuffle political and military leadership positions in the country.
China’s Communist Party has held 18 Congresses to fill its leadership ranks since 1921. The party, which has held absolute power since 1949, organises the meetings every five years.
President Xi Jinping told the 2,287 delegates 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.”
He 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.
On other fronts, Xi touted efforts to complete the army’s modernisation 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.
“China will not close its doors to the world, we will only become more and more open,” Xi said, pledging to “protect the legitimate rights and interests of foreign investors”.
This year, 2,287 delegates from across the country are in Beijing in a highly choreographed event to pick members of the 205-person Central Committee.
The committee will name the line-up of the country’s anti-graft watchdog, the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection (CCDI). It will also select members for the 25-person Politburo and its all-powerful Standing Committee — the country’s highest leadership body comprising just seven people. The Standing Committee will be unveiled at the end of the Congress, which usually lasts about a week.
A series of other appointments will also be made over the Congress period. These include provincial party chiefs and governors and heads of some state-owned enterprises.
At the very top, President Xi Jinping is expected to cruise to a second, five-year term as general secretary of the party, like his two immediate predecessors, Hu Jintao and Jiang Zemin. Xi will speak at the conclave to summarise the country’s achievements in the past five years and lay out the direction for the next five.
The party’s constitution will be amended at the end of the Congress, likely to include a reference to Xi’s thinking or ideology as a guiding party principle, joining Mao Zedong and the reformist former leader Deng Xiaoping, whose names are already enshrined in the document.
The 19th Congress is a gathering of China’s most powerful people: Incumbent state leaders, cabinet ministers, top military generals, provincial party chiefs and governors, mayors of major cities as well as managers of large state-controlled enterprises and banks.
Analysts expect Xi to consolidate his power at the Congress, confirming his stature as China’s most powerful ruler since Deng Xiaoping or even Mao Zedong. One strong indicator of his elevation into this exclusive pantheon of Chinese leaders would be if his name is added to the party’s constitution.
Each Chinese leader since Mao has had one of his personal political philosophies or ideas codified in the constitution. Jiang’s “Three Represents” and Hu’s “Scientific Outlook on Development” were both written into the document, but without their names.
Only two philosophies have names attached to them in the Communist commandments: “Mao Zedong Thought” and “Deng Xiaoping Theory”.
State media said last month that the constitution will be amended during the Congress to “reflect the new governance concepts, thoughts and strategies” developed by the Central Committee since the last meeting.
China’s constitution limits the president and premier to two five-year terms, but there are no rules for the duration of party jobs — where the real power lies — except a ban on “lifelong tenure”.
This has heightened speculation that Xi may try to stay in power in some capacity after 2022, especially since no one has emerged as a clear frontrunner to succeed him.