Thursday 22 February 2018

Xi uses speech to tighten China's grip on 'culture and morals'

Ushers prepare themselves for photos at Tiananmen Square. Photo: Reuters/Ahmad Masood
Ushers prepare themselves for photos at Tiananmen Square. Photo: Reuters/Ahmad Masood

Simon Denyer

China's President Xi Jinping set out his Communist Party's far-reaching agenda yesterday, using his opening speech at a twice-a-decade leadership meeting to set out a vision of total control - with the party guiding not only the economy and the internet but culture, religion and morals.

China's leadership already has a hand in just about every aspect of life. But Mr Xi's speech - three-and-a-half hours long - cast the net even wider.

It was a vision of a reinvigorated Communist Party, backed by a strong economy and a powerful, modern military that increasingly has challenged US influence in the Pacific.

"Achieving national rejuvenation will be no walk in the park," Mr Xi told more than 2,200 members of the party's elite in the mammoth Great Hall of the People, a monument to communist authoritarianism in Beijing's Tiananmen Square, beneath gigantic red curtains and a huge hammer and sickle.

"It will take more than drumbeating and gong-clanging to get there," he added. "Every one of us in the party must be prepared to work even harder toward this goal."

Yet outside, the run-up to the 19th party congress has been most marked by the Communist Party's particular brand of paranoia.

Dissidents have been arrested or railroaded out of town, lest they disrupt the celebratory mood by saying anything remotely critical. Ordinary public gatherings - including a top-level soccer match - have been closed down or postponed.

Censorship of the internet and controls on private chat groups have dramatically intensified, while massive lines built up at subway stations in the capital this week as security checks were stepped up. Volunteers with red armbands and security personnel patrol almost every street corner, while banners extolling the party dominate almost every free space.

Every arm and level of the government has been straining for months to make sure nothing was left to chance, that nothing would spoil this, the big moment for China's President Xi.

In a week's time, Mr Xi will be formally granted another five years in power as general secretary of China's Communist Party.

Yesterday, with a large illuminated red star gleaming in the ceiling 30 metres above his head, he painstakingly set out what he sees as his achievements over the past five years and his vision for the next five - a campaign speech with particularly Chinese characteristics, where the support of the entirety of the tiny, handpicked electorate is already guaranteed.

"For five years, our party has demonstrated tremendous political courage and a powerful sense of mission," Mr Xi said, boasting of having driven profound and fundamental change in China but also warning of many challenges ahead.

His speech was beamed around the nation on state television, and China's leader also set out his ideological contribution to the party's intellectual canon: ponderously named 'Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era'.

One official later described it as the "third milestone" in the party's "ideological innovation" - after 'Mao Zedong Thought' and 'Deng Xiaoping Theory'.

The congress may formally incorporate that ideology into the party's constitution next week - a step that could potentially elevate Mr Xi to the ranks of the most powerful leaders in party history.

Behind him, his immediate predecessor Hu Jintao listened attentively, his eyes mostly on the text of the speech.

But 91-year-old Jiang Zemin, president from 1993 to 2003, seemed less captivated, only occasionally taking out a large magnifying glass to gaze at the text, scratching his ear, and yawning.

Other delegates took notes, or stared straight ahead, looking attentive, stern, impassive, dazed - or just tired, as Mr Xi spoke on, and on.

In the gallery, one diplomat dozed.

The theme of the congress was that the party should remain true to its original aspiration, hold high the banner of socialism, and secure a decisive victory in the battle to build a moderately prosperous society.

In bullet point after bullet point, Mr Xi set out a vision of party leadership and discipline, of reform and development, national security, and national pride, of ideological confidence and above all, of control.

Irish Independent

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