China’s Communist Party Congress opens to endorse Xi’s rule

BEIJING – Chinese President Xi Jinping on Sunday hailed the Communist Party’s rule and defended its Covid policies as he opened a five-yearly Congress at which thousands of hand-picked delegates are set to rubber stamp his bid to rule for a historic third term.

Xi walked onstage to thunderous applause from the roughly 2,300 delegates who had gathered at Beijing’s Great Hall of the People for the event.

In his opening address the leader hailed the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and said the Congress was taking place at a “critical moment” for the country. 

At the start of what is expected to be a lengthy speech, Xi also insisted China’s Covid policies — which are still placing heavy curbs on people’s lives — were for their safety.

He said the policies had “protected people’s safety and health to the highest degree and achieved significant positive results”. 

Xi also focused on two of China’s most sensitive security and sovereignty issues at the start of speech — in relation to Hong Kong, after democracy protests were crushed there, and Taiwan. 

Xi lauded Hong Kong’s transition from “chaos to governance”, while vowing a “major struggle against separatism and interference” in the self-ruled island of Taiwan.

Should everything go to plan for Xi, the 69-year-old will be reconfirmed as the party’s general secretary after the week-long meeting, cementing his position as China’s most powerful leader since Mao Zedong.

If picked as party leader for another five-year term as expected, Xi is almost certain to be elected president at the annual meeting of China’s National People’s Congress in March.

Tight security

A heavy police presence was in place around Beijing early Sunday as authorities prepared for the week-long Congress. 

A fleet of buses whisked journalists and other attendees to a virtually empty Tiananmen Square and into the Great Hall of the People.

Participants navigated a string of security checks before entering the hall, where a giant hammer-and-sickle emblem hung over the stage on which top leaders are due to be seated.

“Long live the great, glorious and correct Chinese Communist Party,” blared one of the bright red banners adorning the hall.

The delegates’ main task is to endorse Xi’s unprecedented campaign to rule for three terms.

Xi and the party’s other top brass are likely to be unveiled on October 23, the day after the Congress closes.

In the highly choreographed, mostly closed-door conclave, the delegates will also pick members of the party’s roughly 200-member Central Committee, which in turn selects the 25-person Politburo and its all-powerful Standing Committee — the country’s highest leadership body.

Rare protest

An editorial in the state-run People’s Daily on Sunday said the Congress will “plan out the goals, tasks and major policies for the development of the party and the country for the next five years or even longer”.

One of the key issues will revolve around whether or not to maintain the strict zero-Covid strategy to combat the coronavirus pandemic.

The policy has strengthened social control over Chinese citizens, whose every move is now computer-registered, in a country already criticised internationally for human rights violations.

While state media this week hammered home the notion that “lying flat” in the face of the virus would be “irresponsible”, zero-Covid has caused widespread hardship and pulled the handbrake on China’s economy. 

The country’s near-closure to the rest of the world and repeated lockdowns have stifled the economic growth rate, which this year is set to be China’s weakest in four decades, excluding 2020 when the global economy was hammered by the emergence of the coronavirus.

In the lead-up to the Congress, China’s internet censors removed virtually all references to reports of a rare protest in Beijing that involved banners denouncing Xi and the country’s Covid policies.

Video footage and photos shared on social media on Thursday appeared to show a protester draping two hand-painted banners on the side of a bridge with slogans criticising the Communist Party’s policies. – AFP