- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 16, 2022

Sounding very much like a man not going anywhere, Chinese President Xi Jinping kicked off a critical weeklong Communist Party Congress strongly defending his economic and COVID policies while vowing to stamp out democratic dissent in Hong Kong and pursue the “reunification” of Taiwan, diplomatically if possible but militarily if necessary.

The formal decision on whether Mr. Xi, 69, will get a precedent-shattering third five-year term as party general secretary and head of the Central Military Commission is not expected until the coming weekend, but there is little doubt that Mr. Xi and his loyalists will dominate the power lineup.

Observers say China faces a host of challenges both foreign and domestic, including a draconian COVID-19 repression policy that is causing major economic woes, a Russian ally whose misadventures in Ukraine have caused headaches and embarrassment for Beijing, and an increasingly confrontational administration in the U.S. that has rallied its allies to contain China in the region and announced plans to cut off key trade and technology transfers to China as it seeks to close the power gap with its only superpower rival.

Mr. Xi, who has emerged as China’s most powerful leader since Mao Zedong, doubled down in his opening speech to the delegates Sunday morning on a number of policies he has pursued since taking power a decade ago. He made no direct mention of national economic woes or growing tensions with the U.S. and China’s neighbors across East Asia.

Taiwan’s future, he said, is “a matter that must be resolved by the Chinese.” It was a shot at the U.S., which has stepped up its military and political support for the island democracy after a summer of tensions with Beijing.

“We will continue to strive for peaceful reunification with the greatest sincerity and the utmost effort, but we will never promise to renounce the use of force, and we reserve the option of taking all measures necessary,” Mr. Xi said, according to the official Xinhua News Agency.

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“This is directed solely at interference by outside forces and the few separatists seeking ‘Taiwan independence’ and their separatist activities; it is by no means targeted at our Taiwan compatriots,” he added to loud applause from delegates.

Mr. Xi, speaking beneath a giant hammer and sickle design, also signaled no retreat from his “zero-COVID” policies, which look to sharply repress the pandemic through the use of major lockdowns and intrusive testing protocols. The policy has produced open dissent online and some protests. Outside experts say the policy has caused serious damage to the economy and is not sustainable.

China has “adhered to the dynamic zero-COVID approach … and achieved major positive results in the overall prevention and control of the epidemic, as well as economic and social development,” said Mr. Xi, giving no signs of a policy change on the issue.

He also pledged to continue the buildup of the People’s Liberation Army, which is increasingly challenging the U.S. for military dominance in the region.

“We will work faster to modernize military theory, personnel and weapons,” Mr. Xi said. “We will enhance the military’s strategic capabilities.”

Corruption crackdown

More than any other modern Chinese leader, Mr. Xi has used a campaign against government corruption to improve governance and to target potential rivals to his power base. High-profile purges of once-close Xi aides have continued as recently as this spring, and Mr. Xi told congress attendees to expect more in the next five years.

“We have … achieved an overwhelming victory in the anti-corruption struggle, and comprehensively consolidated and eliminated the serious hidden dangers existing within the party, state and military,” Mr. Xi told the party faithful Sunday morning.

In a party agenda document given to delegates as they assembled in Beijing, Mr. Xi said there would be no let-up in the anti-corruption campaign in his expected third term.

“We will intensify efforts to uproot corruption in sectors with a high concentration of power, funds and resources …,” the report promised. “Corruption is the biggest cancer that harms the vitality and combat effectiveness of the party, and anti-corruption is the most thorough self-revolution. As long as there are the soil and conditions for corruption, the fight against corruption will not stop for a moment.”

Some 2,300 delegates assembled at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing under heavy security conditions to hear Mr. Xi’s nearly two-hour address. The skies above the capital were clear after a long period of haze, reportedly because Chinese officials ordered coal-powered factories in the Beijing region to suspend operations during the meeting.

While light on news, Mr. Xi’s address did include some of the boilerplate rhetoric of communist gatherings.

“We must strengthen our sense of hardship, adhere to the bottom-line thinking, be prepared for danger in times of peace, prepare for a rainy day, and be ready to withstand major tests of high winds and high waves,” Mr. Xi said at one point.

Talking like an incumbent defending his record ahead of Election Day, Mr. Xi offered an agenda of continuity without major shifts in either foreign or domestic policies.

Economically, he said the government would continue to support the development of a private sector while keeping overall party control in a “socialist market economic system.”

Mr. Xi’s hold on power is expected to be ratified after the congress concludes and the lineup for the new seven-member Politburo Standing Committee is officially revealed. Still unknown is who will replace Premier Li Keqiang, No. 2 in the government hierarchy, and whether any factions not directly loyal to Mr. Xi will claim a spot on the all-powerful executive board.

Mr. Xi’s current term as president technically ends in March, but his real power derives from his posts at the top of the Chinese Communist Party and as de facto head of the military.

For more information, visit The Washington Times COVID-19 resource page.

• David R. Sands can be reached at dsands@washingtontimes.com.

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