BEIJING - China's top political advisory body has rallied its members to unite around the ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and President Xi Jinping, noting that the country faces "formidable challenges".
Kicking off the advisory body's annual meeting in Beijing, the head of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), Mr Wang Yang, said members must keep to the "correct political direction" as the country works towards its goal of building a moderately prosperous society by 2021.
This is one of the centennial goals of the CCP, which was founded in 1921. A key part of realising this is eradicating poverty, which Mr Xi has pledged to do by 2020.
The coming year is critical if China is to achieve this goal, Mr Wang said, adding that the CPPCC must strengthen its political guidance and build consensus on "sensitive issues and points of risk".
"Consensus is the impetus that carries us forward and unity is the 'magic weapon' that ensures us victory," said Mr Wang, the fourth-ranked official of the CCP.
He was speaking to 2,100 CPPCC members gathered in the Great Hall of the People Sunday (March 3) afternoon, as he kicked off an annual gathering of political elites in Beijing.
China's "lianghui", or "two meetings", refers to the annual meetings of the CPPCC and the National People's Congress (NPC), China's legislature.
At the NPC's opening session on Tuesday, Premier Li Keqiang will deliver the government's annual work report to about 3,000 lawmakers.
This year's meetings got underway as thick smog blanketed the city, with Beijing authorities issuing an orange-level alert, its second-highest warning.
Inside the Great Hall of the People, CPPCC delegates comprising representatives from other political parties and from professional, cultural and religious organisations listened in hushed silence as Mr Wang urged them to uphold Mr Xi's and the CCP's leadership.
"We will guide all political parties, people's organisations, and individuals from all ethnic groups and sectors of society in the CPPCC to increase their political, ideological, theoretical and emotional identification with the CCP and socialism with Chinese characteristics," Mr Wang said.
This would ensure China stays on its path of political development and "never wavers from it under any circumstances", he added.
Many delegates agreed.
"What (Wang Yang) said is absolutely right, China's challenges are temporary. We firmly believe that we can build a moderately properous society and realise our Chinese dream of national rejuvenation," said Ms Pan Xiaohui, a delegate from the Sui ethnic minority group in Guizhou province.
Ms Du Mingyan, who is from the Ewenki ethnic minority group in Inner Mongolia, said she has spent the past year "constantly" studying Mr Xi's political thought to improve her work.
Commenting on the overt display of allegiance to Mr Xi, Hong Kong-based political analyst Willy Lam said such open professions of loyalty will be the "new normal", noting Mr Li will probably do likewise when delivering the work report.
"They will emphasise the elevated position of Xi Jinping, that he is the new Mao Zedong of the 21st century, and beyond criticism," said Prof Lam.