BEIJING - China will never allow any foreign force to bully, oppress or subjugate the Chinese people, and any attempt to divide the nation is bound to fail, said President Xi Jinping on Thursday (July 1), as he underpinned the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) ruling legitimacy in a 70-minute speech marking its centenary.
Striking a defiant tone to sustained cheers and applause from a 70,000-strong crowd at Tiananmen Square, Mr Xi fanned the flames of nationalism, while emphasising the Communist Party’s role in China’s rise and its mission to achieve “national rejuvenation”.
The party has been on a campaign to reconstruct its history by focusing on its revolutionary spirit, downplaying past mistakes and drumming up its successes in improving the livelihoods of its people and transforming the country into a global power.
“We have never bullied, oppressed or subjugated the people of any other country, and we never will,” said the Chinese leader as he stood atop the Tiananmen gate to the Forbidden City.
But China will never permit anyone to bully or oppress it, Mr Xi said.
“Anyone who thinks of doing this will smash their heads bloody against the Great Wall of steel formed by the flesh and blood of 1.4 billion Chinese people,” he warned in a raised tone to thunderous applause and cheers .
But he tempered his choice of strong words with assurances that Beijing will seek to promote peace, cooperation and fairness, and that it welcomes “all useful suggestions and well-intentioned criticisms”.
Mr Xi, who wore a grey Mao suit for the occasion, also declared that China had reached middle-class status by doubling its per capita gross domestic product from a decade ago, and was moving towards achieving its second goal of building a strong and modern socialist country by 2049.
The twin targets are the CCP’s two “centennial goals” - the first to be reached by the centenary of the founding of the party, and the second on the 100th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China.
In a speech laden with historical references to China’s tumultuous political past including failed uprisings and movements and imperialist pressures, Mr Xi paid tribute to communist revolutionary leaders such as Mao Zedong and Zhou Enlai . He also acknowledged the contributions of his predecessors Deng Xiaoping, Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao in reforming and opening up the once-isolated nation.
But it was the Chinese people whom he honoured the most, describing them as “the creators of history” and “the true heroes”.
They are “not only good at destroying an old world, but also good at building a new world,” he said, adding that China will forge its own path of development based on its own brand of socialism.
Chinese politics scholar James Char said it was “eye-catching” that President Xi is emphasising “a United Front policy by acknowledging the importance of the masses across all different strata of Chinese society”.
“Also, the inclusion in this section of all non-PRC nationals who are ‘friendly to the Chinese people’ and who ‘care about and support the Chinese revolution’ reiterates Beijing’s recent signalling to move away from ‘wolf warrior’ diplomacy and to rebuild bridges with the world,” said Mr Char, an associate research fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies.
Political pundits were also watching Mr Xi’s speech for a reference to Taiwan. He addressed the “Taiwan question” by stressing that reunification was the “unshakable commitment” of the CCP and warned that any attempts to declare the self-ruled island independent will be met with “resolute action”.
“No one should underestimate the great resolve, the strong will and the extraordinary ability of the Chinese people to defend their national sovereignty and territorial integrity.”
Responding to Mr Xi’s remarks, Taiwan’s Mainland Affairs Council said that the only way for cross-strait relations to progress peacefully is for China to abandon its plans to force its political framework on Taiwan and its military threats.
“The 23 million Taiwanese have long rejected the CCP’s one-sided one-China principle and 1992 consensus, and our government’s determination in protecting our sovereignty and Taiwan’s democracy, freedom in keeping peace across the Taiwan Strait remains the same,” said the council in a statement.
With additional reporting by Katherine Wei from Taipei