No compromise on sovereignty, vows Xi Jinping

Chinese leaders at the Great Hall of the People marking the 95th anniversary of the Chinese Communist Party yesterday. President Xi singled out corruption as the biggest threat to the party.
Chinese leaders at the Great Hall of the People marking the 95th anniversary of the Chinese Communist Party yesterday. President Xi singled out corruption as the biggest threat to the party.PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

But Chinese leader assuages fears over Beijing's growing assertiveness in region, ahead of ruling on sea claims

China will never compromise on its sovereignty, President Xi Jinping said, less than two weeks before an international tribunal rules on the Asian giant's claims in the South China Sea.

In his speech to mark the 95th anniversary of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) yesterday, Mr Xi said: "No foreign country... should expect us to swallow the bitter pill of harm to our national sovereignty, security or development interests."

China lays claim to almost all of the resource-rich South China Sea, which is claimed in part by five other parties, including the Philippines, which brought its case to the international court at The Hague.

In an apparent swipe at the United States, which is not a claimant nation but has conducted freedom of navigation operations in waters near islands that are claimed by China, Mr Xi said that flaunting one's military prowess is not a true show of strength, nor would it scare anyone.

However, in order to assuage concerns over China's growing assertiveness in the region, Mr Xi, who was speaking in his capacity as party general secretary, also said: "China does not covet the rights and interests of other countries, nor is it jealous of other countries' development."

It "will not stir up trouble, but is also not afraid of trouble", he added.

Mr Xi reiterated that China welcomes everyone to partake in its ambitious "One Belt, One Road" infrastructure and economic initiative.

It is not the country's intention to expand its sphere of influence in the region, nor is it trying to nurture its own backyard, he said, adding that China wants to help its neighbours grow and develop.

The One Belt, One Road initiative, first unveiled by Mr Xi in 2013, aims to connect 65 countries on three continents via an overland belt that links China with Europe and a sea route that passes through South-east Asia, Africa and the Middle East.

In a 75-minute speech at Beijing's Great Hall of the People, Mr Xi also singled out corruption as the biggest threat to the party.

"We must have a staunch will, not let up on our zero-tolerance attitude, investigate all cases and punish those who are corrupt, to give corrupt elements no place to hide in the party," he said.

Since the Chinese President took power in 2013, he has launched an extensive campaign against corruption, taking down many key party leaders, including former security chief Zhou Yongkang.

Shenzhen University analyst Ma Jingren noted that Mr Xi has placed a strong emphasis on discussing domestic politics, especially in highlighting problems related to graft.

"The party has transitioned from a revolutionary party to a developmental party and, now, it is transforming itself into a ruling party," he said. "The success of the anti-corruption drive will determine if the CCP could continue to rule the country in the long run."

Chinese Academy of Governance political scientist Xu Yaotong observed that external pressures, especially from the US, have prompted Mr Xi to spend a considerable amount of time speaking about defence and security.

"Compared with former president Hu Jintao's speech at the 90th anniversary in 2011, the speech yesterday had a lot more content related to foreign affairs," noted Professor Xu.

He pointed out that Mr Xi's remarks mark China's strongest response to date on regional security issues, as they were made at a party platform on a significant occasion.

"This, coming out directly from the party, marks the highest level of response from China," he said.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 02, 2016, with the headline 'No compromise on sovereignty, vows Xi'. Print Edition | Subscribe