Xi told a top-level meeting in Beijing on Monday that he believed “time and momentum are on China’s side”, despite challenges including the coronavirus pandemic, supply chain disruptions, deteriorating relations with the West and a slowing economy.
“The world is in a turbulent time that is unprecedented in the past century,” Xi said in the speech, according to party mouthpiece People’s Daily. “But time and momentum are on our side. This is where we show our conviction and resilience, as well as our determination and confidence.”
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He was addressing leading cadres at a meeting on the fifth plenum – an important closed-door gathering in October on China’s medium- and long-term plans for social and economic development to 2025.
“At the same time, we must see clearly that, for now and until this upcoming period of time, while our country is at an important period of strategic opportunity for development, there will always be changes to our opportunities and challenges,” Xi was quoted as saying.
“The extensiveness of these opportunities and challenges is unprecedented but, all in all, the opportunities we face outweigh our challenges,” he added, calling for unity, diligence and flexibility to achieve the party’s goals.
All members of Beijing’s highest decision-making body, the Politburo Standing Committee, and Vice-President Wang Qishan, known as Xi’s right-hand man, were also at the meeting.
Xi has repeatedly said in recent speeches that China was at a crossroads and facing challenging times, but his latest remarks come in a key milestone year – just six months before the party will celebrate its 100th anniversary.
The party aims to achieve two “centenary goals” for China in 2021 – marking its foundation and that of the People’s Republic of China in 1949 – by becoming a “comprehensively well-off society” by the end of the year.
It is also seeking to pave the way to consolidate and legitimise the party’s rule for the next 30 years, with the goal of bringing about a “great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation” by 2049.
In his speech, Xi also again emphasised Beijing’s new “dual circulation” economic strategy first announced in May amid global challenges brought by the pandemic and China’s slowing growth.
“Only by being self-reliant and developing the domestic market and smoothing out internal circulation can we achieve vibrant growth and development, regardless of the hostility in the outside world,” Xi said.
That strategy – echoing the theme of “self-reliance” in the latest five-year plan to 2025 – is expected to see Beijing put less reliance on its export-oriented development strategy, or external circulation, but not abandon it altogether.
Steve Tsang, director of the SOAS China Institute at the University of London, said Xi’s remarks showed he intended to make the most of a world that was in flux and undergoing changes that could fundamentally reshape the global order.
“Xi is now cautiously very optimistic. He sees the general environment and development as positive for China to assert a new historical role and sees challenges but feels confident that China under him will be able to make the most of it,” Tsang said.
“It is a – to paraphrase Napoleon – declaration that the conditions are right for the previously slumbering lion to roar and he will see to it that it does,” he said. “Xi has not specified [the exact policies China will implement]. What he has declared is that the conditions are ripe, and if China will rally around the leadership and follow the leader it will get there. The world should take notice.”
Zhuang Deshui, deputy director of the Research Centre for Government Integrity Building at Peking University, said Xi’s speech showed his confidence in China’s political system and development.
“From his remarks, we can see that Beijing is very confident about China’s major policies and all kinds of responsive measures, and Beijing is determined to walk its own path, unaffected by the outside world as it undergoes changes not seen in a century,” he said.
According to Zhuang, Xi’s remarks also suggested Beijing would be more focused on domestic issues and improving the lives of Chinese than international matters in the years to come.
Peng Peng, vice-president of the Guangdong System Reform Research Society, a think tank, said the speech indicated new momentum at a time when China had largely contained the pandemic, and as the United States was in chaos amid a power transition.
“Xi is asking all officials to seize the strategic opportunities in these changing times and push Chinese society and the economy to a new stage of development,” Peng said. “In the future, China will seek to consolidate partnerships with Russia and Southeast Asian countries, try to mend its strained ties with the US, and it will stick to its own principles in dealing with the Hong Kong and Taiwan issues.”
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