Thunderous applause erupted. The cameras moved in for another close-up.
As General Secretary Xi Jinping stood at the podium in the Great Hall of The People, the impassive expression on his face never changed.
In a speech of just under two hours and laced with hardline ideology, the “chairman of everything” made it clear he was not for turning. Instead, he “doubled down” on the Communist Party of China’s autocratic rule at the 20th National Congress in Beijing.
Comrade Xi was also quick to perpetuate the lie that China’s people matter even though they are not allowed to vote for the party or people of their choice at the ballot box.
“The country is its people; the people are the country. As the CPC has led the people to establish and develop the People’s Republic, it has really been fighting for their support,” he said in his address on Sunday.
Judging by the state of the economy and the loathsome “zero-Covid” policy, that “support” has evaporated as quickly as the morning dew in a heat wave.
So, it appears, is President Xi’s energy count when it comes to public speaking while standing. Henry Gao, of the Singapore Management University, weighed in with two sublime snippets.
“Many people noticed that the 20th Congress report is shorter than the 19th Congress report. This is not true as the new report is 72 pages versus the 68 pages for the 19th Congress,” he tweeted at the weekend.
“The only reason is that Xi could not stand for 3+ hours this time, thus he only read selected sections and finished in 1:45 hours,” Gao said, reflecting on the 69-year-old’s state of health.
Key points from that speech:
- Xi was vague about an economy in crisis, rising unemployment among the young and unsustainable local government debt.
- As The New York Times mused, he appeared to mention “Marx more than the markets” and glossed over the property sector meltdown and the summer of protests.
- He again reinforced his “zero Covid” policy, which will likely drag on into 2023, and his high-tech program.
- “Wolf Warrior” foreign diplomacy against Western “bullying” is also here to stay and he refused to rule out a military invasion of Taiwan.
Delve deeper: National security, as China Factor pointed out last week, was at the core of the address. On Monday during a group discussion behind closed doors, Commander-in-Chief Xi called for the people to stay united as “a piece of hard steel” under his and the Party’s leadership, Xinhua, the official news agency, reported.
Between the lines: “The wheels of history are rolling on towards reunification and the rejuvenation of the great Chinese nation. Complete reunification [with Taiwan] must be realized and it can without a doubt be achieved,” he said 24 hours earlier amid ear-splitting applause from his fan club of 2,296 card-carrying Party delegates.
Big picture: “Yesterday’s speech confirms what many China watchers have long suspected – Xi has no intention of embracing market liberalization or relaxing China’s zero-Covid policies, at least not anytime soon,” Craig Singleton, of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a Washington based think tank,” said.
Double down: “Instead, he intends to double down on policies geared towards security and self-reliance at the expense of China’s long-term economic growth,” he told the CNN network.
China Factor comment: For the United States and its democratic allies, the scene looks set for another five years of Xi’s power politics and “Wolf Warrior” threats.