In view of growing tensions with the USA and the West, China's head of state and party leader wants to make the People's Republic stronger through more independence. The military is also to be expanded into a "Great Wall of Steel," said President Xi Jinping in a speech at the end of the annual session of the People's Congress in Beijing on Monday.
The nearly 3,000 delegates approved a sharp increase in defense spending by 7.2 percent and other decisions. After the end of the zero Covid policy with lockdowns and forced quarantine in December, the second largest economy is expected to grow again by “around five percent”.
In the uncertain times, Xi Jinping called for maintaining stability. "Security is the foundation for development and stability is the precondition for prosperity," said the President. In his speech, he advocated promoting innovation and “scientific and technological autonomy” but did not address US sanctions on key technologies. "We should strive to effectively improve the quality of the economy and achieve reasonable quantitative growth."
However, it will not be easy for China to achieve growth of around five percent as planned, said the new Prime Minister Li Qiang at his first, carefully orchestrated press conference. Additional efforts are necessary. The prospects for the global economy are "not optimistic". China sees many uncertainties, instability and unpredictable events. "Stabilizing economic growth is a challenging task, not only for China, but for all countries in the world."
In view of the tense relations with the USA, the new Prime Minister struck a rather conciliatory tone and called for an expansion of cooperation. Disconnection serves no one. The two largest economies are closely linked, from which both benefit. "China and the United States can and must work together." He only indirectly responded to Xi Jinping's accusation that the United States wanted to prevent China's rise in the world through containment and isolation: "Encirclement and suppression is in nobody's interest."
Xi Jinping also seemed to exercise restraint in the conflict over Taiwan. In his speech he called for a "reunification". Relations should be developed “peacefully”. However, "external interference" and "splittist activities" by pro-independence forces must be resolutely rejected.
The unification process must be pushed forward "unshakeably". However, Xi Jinping did not repeat earlier statements that Beijing does not rule out military force if other efforts fail.
Tensions around Taiwan had recently increased. The communist leadership regards the democratic island republic as part of the People's Republic. But Taiwan has long considered itself independent. Following Russia's invasion of Ukraine, concerns have grown internationally that China could take similar action against Taiwan. In this case, the United States would also be drawn into the conflict because it is committed to Taiwan's ability to defend itself.
During the nine-day session, Xi Jinping cemented his power by securing an unprecedented third term and garnering more followers. In doing so, he defied previously respected age and tenure limits. The 69-year-old had his ongoing leadership role anchored in the party constitution at the party conference in October. He could even remain in office for life. In doing so, he ties in with the founder of the state, Mao Tsetung (1893-1976), who brought chaos to the country.
"The Mao era highlights the dangers of the over-concentration of power in a communist political system, which is a key issue in China today," said Susan Shirk, University of California China Professor, former Assistant Secretary at the US State Department and author of " Overreach – How China Failed Its Peaceful Rise”. "When no one dares to question the leader's decisions, the leader tends to make mistakes - not just small ones, but those that endanger an entire society."
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