Chinese President Xi Jinping says economy is ‘more resilient and dynamic’

Xi Jinping administration has struggled to sustain an economic rebound since rapidly dumping its onerous zero-COVID policy a year ago.

Updated - December 31, 2023 07:41 pm IST

Published - December 31, 2023 05:17 pm IST - Beijing

People have their dinner at a restaurant as a screen broadcasts China’s President Xi Jinping while delivering his New Year’s speech in Beijing on December 31, 2023.

People have their dinner at a restaurant as a screen broadcasts China’s President Xi Jinping while delivering his New Year’s speech in Beijing on December 31, 2023. | Photo Credit: AFP

Chinese President Xi Jinping said on December 31 that the country’s economy had grown “more resilient and dynamic than before” as he addressed the nation in a speech marking the New Year.

Mr. Xi has endured a challenging 2023 at the helm of the world’s second-largest economy.

His administration has struggled to sustain an economic rebound since rapidly dumping its onerous zero-Covid policy a year ago.

But Mr. Xi said 2023 had seen the economy “weather the storm” and become “more resilient and dynamic than before”, in a New Year speech broadcast on state-run channel CCTV.

Record youth unemployment and a persistent debt crisis in the crucial property sector have also hemmed in China’s growth.

Official figures released on Sunday showed a nationwide decline in factory activity deepened in December, the third straight month of contraction.

Analysts have said Beijing may struggle to achieve its stated annual growth target of around five percent, the lowest such ambition in years.

‘Reunification’ with Taiwan is inevitable

China’s “reunification” with Taiwan is inevitable, Mr. Xi said, striking a stronger tone than he did last year with less than two weeks to go before the Chinese-claimed island elects a new leader.

The January 13 presidential and parliamentary elections are happening at a time of fraught relations between Beijing and Taipei. China has been ramping up military pressure to assert its sovereignty claims over democratically governed Taiwan.

China considers Taiwan to be its “sacred territory” and has never renounced the use of force to bring it under Chinese control, though Xi made no mention of military threats in his speech carried on state television.

“The reunification of the motherland is a historical inevitability,” Mr. Xi said, though the official English translation of his remarks published by the Xinhua news agency used a more simple phrase: “China will surely be reunified”.

“Compatriots on both sides of the Taiwan Strait should be bound by a common sense of purpose and share in the glory of the rejuvenation of the Chinese nation,” he added. The official English translation wrote “all Chinese” rather than “compatriots”.

Last year, Mr. Xi said only that people on either side of the strait are “members of one and the same family” and that he hoped people on both sides will work together to “jointly foster lasting prosperity of the Chinese nation”.

China has taken particular exception to current Vice President Lai Ching-te, the presidential candidate for Taiwan’s ruling Democratic Party (DPP) and leading in opinion polls by varying margins, saying he is a dangerous separatist.

Responding late on Saturday to Mr. Lai’s comments at a live televised presidential debate earlier in the day, China’s Taiwan Affairs Office said Lai had “exposed his true face as a stubborn ‘worker for Taiwan independence’ and destroyer of peace across the Taiwan Strait”.

“His words were full of confrontational thinking,” spokesperson Chen Binhua said in a statement.

Since 2016 — when President Tsai Ing-wen took office — the DPP-led government has promoted separatism and is the “criminal mastermind” in obstructing exchanges across the strait and damaging the interests of Taiwan’s people, Chen said.

“As the leading figure of the DPP authorities and current DPP chairman, Lai Ching-te cannot escape his responsibility for this,” he added.

Tsai and Lai have repeatedly offered talks with China, but have been rebuffed.

The DPP says only Taiwan’s people can decide their future, as does Lai’s main opponent in the election, Hou Yu-ih from Taiwan’s largest opposition party the Kuomintang (KMT).

The KMT traditionally favours close ties with China but strongly denies being pro-Beijing. Hou has also denounced Lai as an independence supporter.

The defeated Republic of China government fled to Taiwan in 1949 after losing a civil war with Mao Zedong’s communists who founded the People’s Republic of China. The Republic of China remains Taiwan’s formal name.

Lai said on Saturday that the Republic of China and People’s Republic of China “are not subordinate to each other”, wording he and Tsai have used previously which has also riled Beijing.

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