19th Party Congress: 7 key themes from President Xi Jinping's work report

Chinese President Xi Jinping spent almost 3½ hours delivering a speech on China's achievements during his first five-year term as the Communist Party chief.
Chinese President Xi Jinping spent almost 3½ hours delivering a speech on China's achievements during his first five-year term as the Communist Party chief.PHOTO: AFP

BEIJING - Chinese President Xi Jinping on Wednesday (Oct 18) delivered his closely watched work report at the start of the 19th Communist Party Congress.

He spoke for almost 3½ half hours, giving some 2,300 delegates a lengthy 30,000-character report card of China's achievements during his first five-year term as the party chief, the country's challenges ahead, as well as its policy direction in the next five years.

Here are seven key themes which emerged from his speech at Beijing's Great Hall of the People.

1. CHINA OFFERS AN ALTERNATIVE MODEL

In a speech televised live worldwide, President Xi Jinping espoused what he called "Chinese wisdom" and the "Chinese approach" to problems facing mankind.

He said the China Model offers a "new option" for developing countries that want to accelerate their development while at the same time maintain their independence.

The political system of socialism with Chinese characteristics is a great creation of the Chinese Communist Party and the Chinese people, Mr Xi said.

"We have every confidence that we can give full play to the strengths and distinctive features of China's socialist democracy, and make China's contribution to the political advancement of mankind."

"We should not just mechanically copy the political systems of other countries," he said, alluding to Western-style democracy.

In what is seen as a reference to the rising protectionism and anti-globalisation sentiments in the United States and Europe, Mr Xi said: "No country alone can handle all the challenges that mankind faces and no country can retreat into self-isolation."

Among other things, China will take the lead in international cooperation on climate change to ensure the survival of mankind, he added.

2. A MORE POWERFUL CHINA ON WORLD STAGE

China's soft power and her international standing have risen like never before, Mr Xi proclaimed.

"China stands tall and firm in the east," he said in a speech marked by repeated mentions of Fuxing, or national rejuvenation, and the Chinese Dream.

He also briefly touched on aggression by foreign powers during the Opium Wars, which is regarded as a period of national humiliation in China.

Once ridiculed as the Sick Man of East Asia, China has come a long way to recovering its place as a global power. And it was clear from Mr Xi's speech on Wednesday that he wants to set things right.

"This is an era that will see China move closer to the centre of the world and make more contributions to humankind," he said to loud applause from delegates.

At the same time, Mr Xi attempted to assuage concerns about an overbearing China.

He said China will never seek hegemony or engage in expansion "no matter what stage of development it reaches".

China will never pursue development at the expense of others' interests and China's development does not pose a threat to any other country, he said.

"We endeavour to uphold international fairness and justice, and oppose acts that impose one's will on others or interfere in the internal affairs of others as well as the practice of the strong bullying the weak," he said.

China should become a nation with pioneering global influence by 2050, he said.

3. A NEW GUIDING IDEOLOGY FOR CCP

"Socialism with Chinese characteristics for a New Era" is the name of a new ideological guiding principle for the Chinese Communist Party.

Mr Xi on Wednesday unveiled a 14-point basic policy for the new principle, with one central idea being that the Chinese Communist Party should lead in each and every aspect of life in China.

From building more "new-style think tanks with Chinese characteristics", creating a better education system to serve the "socialist cause" to the modernisation of the Chinese military, Mr Xi linked many priorities to China's brand of socialism, which he says must keep up with the times.

During the 17th Party Congress, then president Hu Jintao spoke about his Scientific Outlook on Development ahead of its being written into the party's Constitution.

This year's party congress is widely expected to cement the clout of Mr Xi, whose political ideas will be written into the party Constitution although it was not clear how it would be worded.

So when he introduced "Socialism with Chinese characteristics for a New Era" during his opening address, it raised questions among reporters and China watchers.

Having his thoughts on governance written into the party charter - without his full name - will mean a minor setback for Mr Xi, perceived to be the most powerful leader since the Deng Xiaoping era.

The political thinking of Mr Xi's predecessors Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao are known as The Three Represents and Scientific Outlook on Development respectively in the party's charter.

Both Jiang, 91, and Hu, 74, were seated beside Mr Xi at Wednesday's opening session in a show of party unity.

 

4. A WORLD-CLASS MILITARY BY 2050

An army that not only can fight, but also win wars. That's the goal Mr Xi has set for the People's Liberation Army (PLA) which grew out of the Red Army.

The party will build a powerful and modernised army, navy, air force, rocket force, and strategic support force; develop strong and efficient joint operations commanding institutions for theatre commands; and create a modern combat system with distinctive Chinese characteristics, he said on Wednesday.

"A military is built to fight," he said. "But it must also be able win wars."

He said China pursues a defensive national defence policy and remains firm in pursuing an independent foreign policy of peace.

But China will never give up its legitimate rights and interests.

"No one should expect us to swallow anything that undermines our sovereignty, security and developmental interests," he said.

China will complete the modernisation of its armed forces by 2035, and achieve a world-class military by 2050, said Mr Xi, who is also the chairman of the Central Military Commission which oversees the PLA.

Mr Xi, who has implemented significant structural reforms to the PLA in his first term that had eluded his two predecessors, stressed that the transformation of the world's largest standing army will "gather momentum and persist" to meet China's evolving national needs.

The PLA, the world's largest military, has about two million service personnel.

5. WORLD'S SECOND LARGEST ECONOMY TO KEEP DOORS OPEN

For foreign investors watching for clues of any possible shift in China's broad economic policy direction, they can heave a sigh of relief.

The world's second largest economy will open further to the world, Mr Xi promises.

"Openness brings progress for ourselves, seclusion leaves one behind. China will not close its doors to the world, we will only become more and more open," Mr Xi said.

He said that China will also deepen market-oriented reform of its exchange rate as well as its financial system, and at the same time strengthen the role of state firms in the economy.

He vowed to "protect the legitimate rights and interests of foreign investors" and said "all businesses registered in China will be treated equally".

"Our economy has moved from a stage of high growth to a stage of high quality growth," he said, adding that innovation will be the primary force driving development of a modernised economy.

He called for more efforts to make China into a country of innovators as well as reach new frontier areas in the field of science and technology.

"We will strengthen basic research in applied sciences, launch major national science and technology projects, and prioritise innovation in key generic technologies, cutting-edge frontier technologies, modern engineering technologies, and disruptive technologies," he said.

Efforts in these areas will provide powerful support for building China's strength in science and technology, product quality, aerospace, cyberspace, and transportation, as well as for building a digital China and a smart society, he said.

6. FIRM WARNINGS TO SEPARATIST FORCES IN TAIWAN AND ELSEWHERE

China will defend its sovereignty and not tolerate a repeat of history where the country was broken up, said Mr Xi.

"We will never allow anyone, any organisation or any political party, at any time or in any form, to separate any part of Chinese territory from China," he said.

"We have sufficient abilities to thwart any form of Taiwan independence attempts," said Mr Xi, while holding out an olive branch for talks and unobstructed exchanges between the two sides.

The caveat? Taiwan must recognise the 1992 consensus that both China and Taiwan belong to one China, with each side having a different interpretation of what this meant.

Taiwan's President Tsai Ing-wen has not acknowledged the 1992 consensus since she took office in May last year. Since then Beijing has cut off official communication with Taiwan, and taken steps to further squeeze its international space.

Beijing considers Taiwan as a renegade province and Mr Xi's goal is to push for a peaceful unification.

Mr Xi on Wednesday cited a leaders' meeting with former president Ma Ying-jeou, which took place in Singapore in 2015, as a highlight in cross-strait relations during his first five-year term as party chief.

Mr Xi also said that it was imperative to implement the policy of "one country, two systems" in Hong Kong and Macau

China faces growing calls for greater autonomy in Hong Kong, which returned to Chinese rule in 1997. A wave of pro-independence movement has swept over the special administrative region in recent years, with young Hong Kongers demanding more democratic rights and less interference by Beijing into the city's affairs.

7. NO LET-UP IN SWEEPING ANTI-GRAFT CAMPAIGN

Calling corruption "the greatest threat" the Chinese Communist Party faces, Mr Xi said the fight against corruption remains grave and complex.

"We must remain as firm as a rock in our resolve to build on the overwhelming momentum and secure a sweeping victory," he said.

He stressed the party's zero tolerance for corruption, saying those who take bribes and those who offer them will be punished and interest groups will not be allowed within the party.

Mr Xi also said wherever offenders may flee, they shall be brought back to China to face justice.

He said that China will push ahead with the adoption of national anti-corruption legislation and create a corruption reporting platform that covers both disciplinary inspection commissions and supervision agencies. He also said that the public awareness of the rule of law has increased since five years ago.

More than 1.4 million party members or officials have been punished since the anti-graft crackdown started in late 2012.