The much-anticipated coronation of China’s supreme leader Xi Jinping has officially begun, as the ruling Communist Party convenes a week-long meeting to celebrate his first decade in power and likely usher in a new era of strongman rule.
Amid heightened security, increased zero-Covid restrictions and frenzied propaganda and censorship, the party will begin its most important national congress in decades in Beijing on Sunday morning.
At the 20th Party Congress, Xi, who came to power in 2012, is poised to seek a third term as party general secretary, breaking with recent precedent and paving the way for a potential lifetime mandate.
The expected anointing will cement the 69-year-old as China’s most powerful leader since Mao Zedong, who ruled China until his death at the age of 82. It will also have a great impact on the world, as Xi doubles it. foreign policy to increase China’s international power and rewrite the US-led global order.
In the heart of the Chinese capital, nearly 2,300 hand-picked party representatives from across the country gathered in the Great Hall of the People for a highly choreographed event.
Sitting in neat rows and wearing face masks, Xi is expected to deliver a lengthy work report that will take stock of the party’s achievements over the past five years and broadly outline its policy priorities for the next five.
Observers will be closely watching for signs of the direction of the party’s policy, in terms of an uncompromising zero-Covid policy, handling tough economic challenges and a goal of “unification” with Taiwan, an autonomous democracy that Beijing claims as its own. never out of control.
Meetings will be held behind closed doors for the most part during the week. When delegates reconvene at the end of the congress next Saturday, they will hold a ceremonial vote to seal Xi’s work report and approve changes to the party constitution, which could give Xi new titles to further strengthen his power.
Delegates will also elect the party’s new Central Committee, which will hold its first meeting the following day to appoint the party’s top leadership — the Politburo and its Standing Committee — following decisions already made behind the scenes by party leaders ahead of the congress.
The congress will be a major moment of political victory for Xi, but it also comes at a time of potential crisis. Xi’s insistence on an uncompromising zero-Covid policy has fueled public frustration and hampered economic growth. Meanwhile, diplomatically, his “unbounded” friendship with Russian President Vladimir Putin has further strained Beijing’s relations with the West following Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine.
Ahead of the congress, officials across China dramatically increased restrictions to prevent even small outbreaks of Covid, imposing massive lockdowns and increasingly frequent mass Covid-testing in a few cases. However, infections caused by the highly transmissible Omicron variant have continued to flare up. As of Saturday, China had reported nearly 1,200 infections, including 14 in Beijing.
Public anger against zero-Covid erupted in a rare protest against Xi on Thursday. Online photos showed two banners denouncing Xi and his policies being unfurled on a busy thoroughfare before being pulled down by police.
“Say no to the Covid test, yes to the food. No to the lockdown, yes to freedom. No to lies, yes to dignity. No to the cultural revolution, yes to reform. No to the great leader, yes to vote. Don’t be a slave, be a citizen”, says a banner.
“Get rid of the dictator and national traitor Xi Jinping,” read the other.
The Chinese public has in the past paid little attention to party congresses – they have nothing to do with reshaping the country’s leadership, or major policies. But this year, many have pinned their hopes on the congress to be a turning point for China to relax its Covid policy.
A recent series of articles in the party’s mouthpiece, however, suggests that it may be in the mood. People’s Day said it was the “best chance” for a zero-Covid country, stressing that “it is sustainable and must continue”.
On Saturday, on the eve of the congress, party spokesman Sun Yeli told a press conference that China’s Covid measures have ensured the country’s very low infection and death rates and enabled “sustainable and stable operation of the economy and society”.
“All things considered, China’s epidemic prevention measures are the most economical and effective,” Sun said.
“Our prevention and control strategies and measures will be more scientific, more precise and more effective,” he said. “We firmly believe that the dawn is ahead, and persistence is victory.”