Xi touts Covid-19 fight, warns about security challenges at China's most important political meeting

Chinese President Xi Jinping speaks during the opening session of the 20th National Congress of the Communist Party of China on Oct 16, 2022. PHOTO: AFP
Delegates at the opening ceremony of the 20th National Congress of the Communist Party of China at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China, on Oct 16, 2022. PHOTO: EPA-EFE
Military band members rehearsing before the opening ceremony of the 20th National Congress of the Communist Party of China on Oct 16, 2022. PHOTO: REUTERS
Ethnic minority delegates leaving after the opening ceremony of the 20th National Congress of the Communist Party of China on Oct 16, 2022. PHOTO: EPA-EFE
A security staff member keeps watch in front of the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on Oct 16, 2022. PHOTO: AFP

BEIJING - President Xi Jinping on Sunday emphasised the security challenges that China could face and told party members to be ready to weather “high winds, choppy waters, and even dangerous storms”, as the country continues its rise as a world power.

Warning of continued uncertainties in the global landscape, he urged party cadres to get behind the Communist Party of China (CPC) and foster a fighting spirit so that they “cannot be swayed by fallacies, deterred by intimidation or cowed by pressure”.

In a wide-ranging speech at the opening of the party’s twice-a-decade congress, Mr Xi outlined his vision for the country for the next five years and more, while also taking stock of achievements made under his 10-year rule.

While much of it was a reinforcement of goals he had mapped out previously, the Chinese leader also appeared to place particular focus on security, including direct references to external threats.

A full report that was twice as long as Mr Xi’s speech was given out to reporters at the Great Hall of the People, in which Mr Xi warned that “black swan” and “grey rhino” events could occur at any moment.

“External attempts to suppress and contain China may escalate at any time,” said the report.

Associate Professor Li Mingjiang of the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore noted that there was emphasis on domestic political and ideological security, which has become part of national security as the party tightens its grip and control on various fronts.

“My takeaway is that now, domestic regime security and ideological security have become at least equally important to national security in the traditional sense,” said Prof Li.

Other forms of security Mr Xi spoke of in his speech - which at just under two hours was a far cry from the 3½ hours he spent at the previous congress - included his controversial zero-Covid policy and Hong Kong’s national security law.

He defended both, crediting his harsh Covid-19 protocols for saving lives and achieving “positive results” in economic growth, a signal that the country’s persistent measures could be here to stay.

Beijing, he said, had also successfully turned Hong Kong around from “chaos to governance” in the wake of the 2019 protests after introducing the tough piece of legislation.

The theme of security extends to the economy as well, with analyst Yu Jie of London-based policy institute Chatham House noting that Mr Xi’s call for supply chains to be secured and breakthroughs in core technologies reflected Beijing’s “deep anxieties” over its vulnerability and reliance on foreign suppliers.

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Over the week-long meeting, about 2,300 delegates representing the party’s 96 million-strong members will deliberate on this political report and also elect members of the new Central Committee - the top leadership body of the party - that will run the country for the next five years.

Mr Xi is certain to assume a rare third term as the party’s general secretary and also military chief, while revisions to the party’s Constitution are expected to elevate him as he further consolidates power.

Top leaders past and present sat on stage behind Mr Xi as he delivered his report, with the elite Politburo members and party elders in the front row unmasked.

(From left) China's Premier Li Keqiang, President Xi Jinping and former President Hu Jintao during the opening ceremony of the 20th National Congress of the Communist Party of China, on Oct 16, 2022. PHOTO: EPA-EFE
(From left) Mr Wen Jiabao, Mr Zhang Dejiang, Mr Song Ping (seated) and Mr Zeng Qinghong. PHOTO: REUTERS

Among them were former leader Hu Jintao and premier Wen Jiabao, as well as previous Standing Committee members Li Ruihuan, Zhang Gaoli and 105-year-old Song Ping.

Noticeably absent was former general secretary and president Jiang Zemin, 96, and former premier Zhu Rongji, 93.

Security in the capital city has been stepped up significantly in recent weeks, with visible police presence at nearly every traffic junction and bridge, and citizen volunteers in red armbands patrolling street corners.

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