China’s leader Xi Jinping on Thursday said the country’s rejuvenation was “a historical inevitability” and it could no longer be “bullied and abused by others”, delivering a strong message on the ruling Communist Party’s centenary.
Mr. Xi, who is the Communist Party of China’s (CPC) general secretary, the country’s President, and head of the military, delivered an hour-long speech to a crowd of thousands on Tiananmen Square, accompanied by the Politburo and past senior leaders, including former President Hu Jintao, on the rostrum from where former leader Mao Zedong would address mass rallies.
The Mao parallels did not stop there. The celebration began, as it often did in the Mao era, with a choir of some 3,000 students singing in praise of the party. Mr. Xi, who has since taking over in 2012 elevated his standing in the party on a par with Mao, was the only one among the suited leadership dressed in a dark green Mao-suit.
Thursday’s ceremony began with helicopters flying over Tiananmen carrying the red Communist Party flag with hammer and sickle, followed by 15 J-20 stealth fighters, all tailored for a show of strength.
Mr. Xi’s speech focused on themes he has stressed since taking over in 2012 — the “national rejuvenation” of China as well as greater political centralisation, with his term seeing a move away from a collective leadership model with term limits to rule by one “core” leader.
“China’s success hinges on the party,” he said. “We must be deeply conscious of the need to maintain political integrity, think in big-picture terms, follow the leadership core, and keep in alignment with the central party leadership. We must uphold the core position of the General Secretary on the Party Central Committee and in the Party as a whole, and uphold the Central Committee’s authority and its centralised, unified leadership.”
He praised the party’s “socialism with Chinese characteristics” model for “enabling China to transform itself from a highly centralised planned economy to a socialist market economy brimming with vitality, and from a country that was largely isolated to one that is open to the outside world across the board” and is now the second-largest economy.
He said the party had, since its congress in 2012 when he came to power, “fulfilled the first centenary goal” which was eliminating absolute poverty, a landmark the government said was achieved this year. The second centenary goal, referring to the People’s Republic of China’s centenary in 2049, would be to build China “into a great modern socialist country in all respects”.
Mr. Xi also had a strong message for the world, reflecting on China’s past history of “humiliation”. “After the Opium War of 1840, China was gradually reduced to a semi-colonial, semi-feudal society and suffered greater ravages than ever before. The country endured intense humiliation, the people were subjected to great pain, and the Chinese civilisation was plunged into darkness,” he said.
Sense of pride
Now, Chinese people “are not intimidated by threats of force” and had “a strong sense of pride and confidence”. While China was “eager to learn what lessons we can from the achievements of other cultures and welcome[s] helpful suggestions and constructive criticism”, it “will not accept sanctimonious preaching from those who feel they have the right to lecture us.”
Mr. Xi called for “accelerating the modernisation of national defence and the armed forces” and said “a strong country must have a strong military, as only then can it guarantee the security of the nation”. China would “elevate our people’s armed forces to world-class standards so that we are equipped with greater capacity and more reliable means for safeguarding our national sovereignty, security, and development interests”, he said, with the party earlier announcing a target to complete military modernisation by 2035. He said China would oppose “zero-sum games” as well as “hegemony and power politics”.
On Hong Kong, which has since last year’s controversial national security law come under the most direct control of Beijing so far since the 1997 handover, he said China would “ensure that the central government exercises overall jurisdiction”.
He said “resolving the Taiwan question and realising China’s complete reunification is a historic mission and an unshakable commitment” for the party. China would “advance peaceful national reunification” but would “take resolute action to utterly defeat any attempt toward ‘Taiwan independence’,” he said.
“No one,” he added, “should underestimate the resolve, the will, and the ability of the Chinese people to defend their national sovereignty and territorial integrity”, a statement that elicited the loudest cheers on Thursday from the crowd at Tiananmen.