Xi Jinping says China’s military has to become the ‘great wall of steel’

Xi Jinping has promised to build China’s military into a “great wall of steel” in his first speech since he secured an unprecedented third five-year term as president.

Addressing an audience of 3,000 delegates at the National People’s Congress (NPC), he said that “safety is the foundation of development, and stability is the prerequisite for prosperity”.

Mr Xi pledged “build the military into a great wall of steel that effectively safeguards national sovereignty, security and our development interests”.

Having made himself into the nation’s most powerful leader since Mao Zedong, Mr Xi also said that the country must achieve greater self-reliance in science and technology. Beijing has long held such an aim, but deteriotating ties with the West, and particulary the US, over technology and security has injected more urgency. The UK has also pladged to double the funding allocated to building its Chinese expertise across government in response to growing concern over the security challenge posed by Beijing.

Mr Xi is expected to tighten party oversight over security matters, a move that comes after he replaced top security officials with his trusted allies. At a closed-door meeting last week with government advisers, Mr Xi said the West, led by the US, “has implemented all-round containment to suppress China”.

The US, UK and a number of other nations have expressed concerns over the threat of military action from Beijing against Taiwan and the country’s aggressive stance in the South China Sea. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has described the Chinese Communist Party as posing an “epoch-defining challenge”. In his speech, Mr Xi stressed the need for China to oppose “pro-independence” influences and secessionist activities and the interference of external forces, with Beijing regarding self-ruling Taiwan as a renegade province. He said that “national reunification” was the “essence of national rejuvenation”, suggesting that the issue of Taiwan’s relationship to China will be a big part of his new term.

Meanwhile, China’s new premier, Li Qiang – a stanch ally of Mr Xi – sought to inspire confidence within the business community by saying in a speech that the environment for businesses will improve and that equal treatment would be given to all types of companies. Mr Li was handed the second-most powerful position in China’s Communist Party at the weekend and is tasked with reviving the world's second-largest economy after three years of Covid-19 restrictions.

“Developing the economy is the fundamental solution for creating jobs,” Mr Li, said. “Private entrepreneurs or enterprises will enjoy a better environment and broader space for development ... we will create a level playing field for all kinds of market entities and we will make further efforts to support private entrepreneurs to grow and thrive,” he added.

At the opening of the annual parliamentary session, China set a GDP growth target of about 5 per cent, its lowest goal in nearly three decades, after the economy grew just 3 per cent last year. Achieving the target would not be easy, with China facing many difficulties this year, Mr Li said, with his 90-minute address coming in significantly shorter than the speeches given by his predecessor Li Keqiang in recent years.

Also on Monday, China’s parliament approved changes to a law that would allow it to pass emergency legislations more quickly. The state Xinhua news agency reported that the amendment to the Legislation Law, which governs how laws are enacted, gives the 170-member National People’s Congress standing committee special powers to pass laws after just one review session.

Readouts from delegates’ meetings published during the annual parliamentary gathering said that the move was an “important measure” to “further improve the quality and efficiency of legislation”, and an “inevitable requirement for strengthening the [ruling Communist] party’s overall leadership over legislative work”.

Critics say that the move could further erode public debate and scrutiny in China. The amended Legislation Law could be “abused and may well be abused in ramming through laws without much consultation or public notice”, Julian Ku, professor of constitutional law at Hofstra University in New York said.

Additional reporting by agencies