China opens a twice-a-decade party conference at which leader Xi Jinping is expected to receive a third five-year term that breaks with recent precedent and establishes himself as arguably the most powerful Chinese politician since Mao Zedong.
Almost 2,300 delegates from the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) have gathered in Beijing for a congress that is expected to deliver President Xi Jinping a historic third term in control of a country his zero-Covid policy has closed off from much of the rest of the world.
On Sunday, Xi walked onstage to thunderous applause from thousands of hand-picked delegates, who have gathered at Beijing’s Great Hall of the People for the five-yearly event.
In his opening address the leader hailed the CCP and said the Congress was taking place at a “critical moment” for the country.
“The situation in Hong Kong has achieved a major transition from chaos to governance,” Xi said, while vowing a “major struggle against separatism and interference” in Taiwan.
China will “never commit to abandoning the use of force” on Taiwan, Xi added.
He said China had “protected people’s safety and health to the highest degree and achieved significant positive results in coordinating epidemic prevention and control and social and economic development”.
Xi said the party of 96 million members “has won the largest battle against poverty in human history.”
Should everything go to plan at the ceremony, 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.
“This gathering will be China’s most consequential political event in decades” and will set the country’s course for the next 10 years or more, consultancy firm Trivium China said, adding that a new five-year term for Xi was “the headline everyone one is watching for”.
The CCP’s five-yearly talking shop opened at 10 am [local time] at the Great Hall of the People –– a huge Stalinist building in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square –– with a speech by the leader who has been in power since 2012.
Congress spokesperson Sun Yeli told a press conference on Saturday that the event would end on October 22, meaning Xi and other Party top brass would probably be unveiled the day after that.’
In the mostly closed-door conclave, the 2,296 participants will also pick members of the party’s around 200-member Central Committee, which in turn selects the 25-person Politburo and its all-powerful Standing Committee –– the country’s highest leadership body.
One of the key questions 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.
Sunday’s opening ceremony is being held under a strict zero-Covid policy, sealing organisers and journalists in a virus-secure bubble two days in advance.
Participants have been ordered to take daily Covid tests to attend events, some of which are being held remotely by video link instead of in person.