President Xi Jinping hailed China’s rise as a global power and demanded unity around his leadership on Sunday, launching a Communist Party Congress that is set to rubber stamp his bid to rule for a historic third term.

In an opening address to 2,300 delegates gathered at the Great Hall of the People, Xi promoted and defended a range of signature policies — including zero-Covid and his anti-corruption drive that has taken down rivals in the party.

“Unity is strength, and victory requires unity,” Xi said after walking onstage to a thunderous reception from the hand-picked attendees who will vote during the week-long Congress on the party leadership for the next five years.

The president — whose 10-year rule has seen the country become a global superpower — said “China’s international influence, appeal and power to shape the world has significantly increased”.

During his 100-minute “work report” on the past five years, Xi also focused on two of China’s most sensitive security and sovereignty issues in relation to Hong Kong, after democracy protests were crushed there, and on the self-ruled island of Taiwan.

He lauded Hong Kong’s transition from “chaos to governance”, while his vow to “never commit to abandoning the use of force” on the self-ruled island of Taiwan drew rapturous applause.

Zero-Covid

Xi celebrated the party’s continued efforts to eradicate Covid — which are placing heavy curbs on people’s lives and is hammering the nation’s economy — as a major achievement.

He insisted the approach had “protected people’s safety and health to the highest degree”.

He also highlighted as a success his graft crackdown, which has seen thousands of people jailed and critics have said has been used to crush dissent and opposition to his rule.

Xi said the anti-corruption campaign had eliminated “serious latent dangers” within the Communist Party, the military and the state.

“The fight against corruption has won an overwhelming victory and has been comprehensively consolidated,” he said.

In a speech that mostly focused on domestic issues, Xi also told the delegates that China would “actively participate in global governance on climate change”.

Xi also reiterated that China opposed a “Cold War mentality” in international diplomacy, but made no mention of frayed relations with the United States.

Xi also did not reference the Ukraine war.

Stability

There were no policy announcements in the address, which was largely a review of the current state of play, and analysts said Xi wanted to project stability.

“This is a very turbulent time with the Covid crisis, economic downturn and tense international situation, especially with the US,” said Alfred L. Chan, a Xi biographer and professor based in Canada.

“Caution, rather than dramatic change, is more prudent.” Should everything go to plan for Xi, the 69-year-old will be endorsed as the party’s general secretary after the week-long meeting ends, cementing his position as China’s most powerful leader since Mao Zedong.

Xi and the party’s other top brass are likely to be unveiled on October 23, the day after the Congress closes.

If picked as party leader for another five-year term as expected, he is almost certain to be elected president at the annual meeting of China’s National People’s Congress in March.

In the highly choreographed, mostly closed-door conclave this week, the delegates will pick members of the party’s roughly 200-member Central Committee, which in turn selects the 25-person Politburo and its all-powerful Standing Committee — the country’s highest leadership body.

Heavy security

A heavy police presence was in place around Beijing early Sunday as authorities prepared for the Congress.

Participants navigated a string of security checks before entering the hall, where a giant hammer-and-sickle emblem hung over the stage on which top leaders are due to be seated.

“Long live the great, glorious and correct Chinese Communist Party,” blared one of the bright red banners adorning the hall.

In the background, authorities were working to extinguish any form of public dissent. In the lead-up to the Congress, China’s internet censors removed virtually all references to reports of a rare protest in Beijing that involved banners denouncing Xi and the country’s Covid policies.

Video footage and photos shared on social media on Thursday appeared to show a protester draping two hand-painted banners on the side of a bridge with slogans criticising the Communist Party’s policies.

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