Chinese President Xi Jinping to deliver New Year's Eve speech as trade deal nears

The new year will bring challenges, as Chinese President Xi Jinping must continue to turn around slowing growth and boost investor confidence. PHOTO: AFP

BEIJING (BLOOMBERG) - Chinese President Xi Jinping is expected to deliver his annual New Year's Eve address amid mounting pressure at home and abroad on issues from the country's economic slowdown to protests against Beijing's rule in Hong Kong and a looming "phase one" trade deal with the US.

Tuesday evening's (Dec 31) speech comes after a year of headwinds for the Chinese leader.

China has seen its slowest economic growth in three decades, surging pork prices, international backlash over its crackdown on minority Muslim Uighurs and sometimes violent pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong. The Communist Party also weathered politically sensitive anniversaries, including three decades since the Tiananmen Square crackdown and 70 years since Mao Zedong led the party to power.

The new year will bring challenges, as Xi must continue to turn around slowing growth and boost investor confidence. The year 2020 has long been designated a landmark in the Chinese government's road map to hit targets that include complete poverty elimination in rural areas and relocating 100 million rural residents to cities, part of a bid to improve growth and mitigate social discontent to strengthen the party's rule.

Chinese presidents have been delivering brief televised remarks on New Year's Eve since Jiang Zemin began the tradition at the close of 1993. On Dec 31, 2018, Xi urged self-reliance amid "changes unseen in 100 years".

The US and China are arranging a formal signing ceremony of what they say is the first phase of a broader trade after Xi and President Donald Trump spoke by phone in late December.

White House trade adviser Peter Navarro said on Monday that he expected the two sides to sign it in the "next week or so".

Movement on a deal could help stabilise China's economy, with analysts and traders predicting earlier this month that economic growth will come in at 5.9 per cent in the new year as easing trade tensions and the prospect of lower bank borrowing costs boost confidence. The economy will grow by 6.1 per cent this year and by 5.8 per cent in 2021, according to the median estimate of around 70 economists in a Bloomberg survey.

Eliminating poverty is a top item on the Communist Party's agenda and one of Xi's signature political programmes. Upholding that commitment entails lifting another six million people out of poverty in the coming year, and failing to meet that goal may hurt Xi's authority and the legitimacy of the ruling party.

Xi also faces a dilemma over Hong Kong's protesters, who have vowed to keep on fighting into 2020. The city saw its biggest pro-democracy protest in more than six months of unrest on Dec 8 as hundreds of thousands of people gathered, signalling that the movement will be able to sustain momentum.

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