As the National People’s Congress comes to a conclusion, China’s president lays out his objectives, including ’reunification’ with an island that the Communist Party has never governed.
Xi Jinping emphasised the importance of opposing “pro-independence” influences in Taiwan as he closed the National People’s Congress (NPC) after a week in which the rubber-stamp parliament granted China’s president an unprecedented third presidential term and reshuffled vital positions at the top of the government.
Xi delivered an address to the assembled delegates to conclude the conference. In a meticulously staged event in Beijing on Friday, he cemented his position as China’s most powerful leader in centuries.
Xi called the necessity for “national reunification” the “essence of national rejuvenation” in his speech outlining his goals for China on Monday, putting the problem of Taiwan’s relationship with China as a focal point of the following political term.
“We must vigorously reject overseas influences and separatist actions in Taiwan. We must relentlessly promote the cause of national rejuvenation and reunification,” Xi declared amid thunderous applause. Xi, who has previously not ruled out the use of force against Taiwan, highlighted the need to “support the peaceful development of cross-strait ties”.
The Chinese Communist Party has never administered Taiwan, a self-governing democracy, but views it as a renegade province that must be “reunified” with the mainland, even if it means using force. Xi has emphasised China’s claim to Taiwan as a historical imperative amid escalating tensions with the US.
On Monday, Xi emphasised the need to strengthen the military and build a “great wall of steel” to preserve China’s sovereignty and national interests.
He also emphasised the importance of increased economic self-sufficiency and the necessity to synchronise growth and security. “Security is the bedrock upon which progress is built. The cornerstone for success is stability.”
On Saturday, Li Qiang, a longstanding Xi friend, was appointed to the position of premier, the Chinese Communist Party’s second most influential position. Li Keqiang, the former Shanghai Communist Party chief, stepped down after two five-year mandates.
On Monday, Li Qiang, who is now in charge of rebuilding China’s economy after three years of Covid restrictions, attempted to instil corporate confidence. Entrepreneurs and firms in China would be given room and abundant possibilities to grow in a rules-based environment and a “culture of respect,” the premier said at his first press conference.
In recent years, the party has clamped down on internet businesses in an attempt to regain control of China’s major enterprises and economic elite.
Li again singled out the US for condemnation, mirroring a speech from President Xi last week in which he blasted US-led “suppression of China”.
“China and the United States should and must work together. There is much we can do when China and the US work together,” Li said, adding, “Encirclement and suppression are not favourable to anybody.”
Other nominations saw fewer changes than expected, with the majority of cabinet members remaining in their positions.
Xi has appointed supporters to crucial positions in the administration, although he defied precedent by keeping Yi Gang as governor of the People’s Bank of China (PBOC) and Liu Kun as finance minister. Both men have achieved, or have just passed, the official retirement age of 65.
“Choosing continuity in these crucial economic roles implies a focus on credibility and stability,” explained Mattie Bekink, China director at the Economist Intelligence Business Network.
“It is also perhaps a tacit acknowledgement of some of the challenges for Beijing at the moment,” she said. “The real challenge for this third Xi administration is whether it will address structural imbalances in China’s economy and undertake reforms necessary to ensure China’s long-term competitiveness.”
The government has set a target of 5% economic growth for 2023, up from 3% last year, which was one of the worst performances in decades.