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Xi declares ‘new era’ for China as party congress opens

Xi Jinping

Beijing, China | AFP |  President Xi Jinping declared China has embarked on a “new era” of challenges and opportunities on Wednesday as he opened a Communist Party congress expected to enhance his already formidable power.

Xi told some 2,300 delegates at the imposing Great Hall of the People that the party must “resolutely oppose” any actions that undermine its leadership as it steers a course through a high-stakes period in its development.

“The situation both domestic and abroad is undergoing profound and complex changes,” said Xi, who is expected to secure a second five-year term as general secretary and stack leadership positions with loyalists during the twice-a-decade congress.

“China’s development is still in a stage of important strategic opportunities. The prospects are bright, but the challenges are also severe,” he said in a marathon speech that exceeded three hours and was met by waves of applause.

“Socialism with Chinese characteristics has entered a new era,” he said, envisioning a “great modern socialist country” by mid-century.

Speaking in front of a massive hammer and sickle, Xi touted his nationalistic “China dream” slogan, vowed to open the economy, promised to win the fight against poverty, and pointedly warned he would continue his “zero tolerance” campaign against corruption.

Considered China’s most powerful leader since Deng Xiaoping or even Mao Zedong, Xi could use the congress to lay the foundation to stay atop the 89-million-strong party even longer than the normal 10 years, according to analysts.

That would break the unwritten two-term limit accepted by his immediate predecessors Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao — who were by Xi’s side at the congress — and end the era of “collective leadership” aimed at preventing the emergence of another Mao.

Another signal of Xi’s rise to the pantheon of Chinese leadership would be if his name is added to the party constitution, an honour that has only been bestowed upon modern China’s founder, Mao, and the father of economic reforms, Deng.

“I want to sum up Xi’s speech in one sentence: It is the political declaration of the Xi era,” Chinese politics scholar Chen Daoyin told AFP.

“It is different from Mao’s era and Deng’s reform and opening era… Now we have entered an era of becoming strong.”

– ‘Tigers and flies’ –

Xi’s rise has been marked by a relentless crackdown on dissent, with authorities even refusing to free Nobel peace prize laureate Liu Xiaobo as he lay dying of cancer in July.

Potential rivals have also been swept aside under Xi’s vast anti-corruption drive, which punished 1.3 million Communist Party officials over five years.

Xi said the campaign has been “unswervingly fighting against ‘tigers’, ‘beating flies’, ‘hunting foxes'” — terms used for lower- and higher-ranking officials and fugitives.

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