BEIJING - Chinese President Xi Jinping on Tuesday praised the late Mr Jiang Zemin for leading China through a time when it faced intense Western pressure and internal turmoil, as he made a call for greater unity under his own leadership.
At a grand state funeral for Mr Jiang, Mr Xi said the former president had stressed that party members should “always put the party in the highest position in their hearts and always uphold and safeguard the party’s leadership in all tasks”.
“This is the hope of our party and country,” said Mr Xi, who was delivering the eulogy.
His comments come just over a week after protests flared up across the country, challenging his zero-Covid policy.
While Beijing has begun to loosen Covid-19 containment measures, the show of unhappiness, at times directed at the Chinese President and the party, is seen as its most severe challenge since the Tiananmen incident in 1989.
“Comrade Jiang Zemin has said that our party is leading the people in the great struggle of socialist modernisation and will inevitably encounter many complicated situations. The severe international and domestic circumstances, and different social and ideological systems will test every party member,” said Mr Xi.
“We must have a heroic spirit that overcomes all enemies, we must not bow our noble heads.”
Mr Jiang died last Wednesday of leukaemia and multiple organ failure in Shanghai. He was 96.
His body was flown to Beijing a day later.
During his 50-minute speech, Mr Xi paid tribute to Mr Jiang, calling him an “outstanding leader with great prestige and a great Marxist”. He credited Mr Jiang for leading China through a transformational time, taking the reins in 1989 after the bloody Tiananmen crackdown when the party crushed pro-democracy protests.
He praised Mr Jiang for leading China to join the World Trade Organisation, which resulted in the country opening up further to the outside world. He signalled that these efforts would continue under his leadership, calling “reform and opening up” modern China’s critical strategy.
Political analyst Willy Lam, an adjunct professor at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, said Mr Xi’s call, on the one hand, for greater unity under the party’s leadership, and for continued efforts to open up, on the other, reflected challenges the party was currently facing.
Mr Xi and other top leaders would have been “disturbed” by the protests over zero-Covid, he said, noting that the Chinese economy has also been badly affected.
“Xi wants to show that he will continue the open-door policy that Deng Xiaoping began and Jiang continued... The Chinese economy is in bad shape and they need foreign investment, (especially since) they are facing US pressure, and foreign companies are having second thoughts about investing in China because of the Covid-19 situation,” he said.
Tuesday’s funeral ceremony, which began with three minutes of silence, saw the Great Hall of the People in Beijing draped in black.
Attended by the current party elite, retired officials and Mr Jiang’s family, the funeral brings to an end a week of mourning.
Since Mr Jiang’s death last week, Chinese state media has been awash with praise and nostalgia for the man who was the party’s general secretary from 1989 to 2002 and head of state from 1993 to 2003.