In 2017, Xi Jinping, the man who would become China’s most powerful leader since Mao Zedong, delivered a message of unity. In 2022, he delivered a message of dominance.
In the five years since thousands of delegates last gathered at the National Party Congress to elect China’s leaders, Xi has consolidated his grip on the party to the point that a third term in power – once controversial – is now a fait accompli.
In front of 2,340 delegates Saturday night, Xi sat alone on stage as a sea of hands saluted him. They did the same on Sunday when he gave a report on the work of the Chinese Communist Party, a speech that focused less on the country’s achievements and more on the party’s strengths under his one-man rule.
Xi said that in 2017, China was in the “midst of profound and complex changes”. “The outlook is good, but the challenges are serious.”
That was before it crushed Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement and China hit Australia with $20 billion worth of trade strikes in 2020. Before the People’s Liberation Army surrounded Taiwan and Xi Jinping tacitly supported Vladimir Putin in his 2022 invasion of Ukraine. The COVID-19 pandemic will plunge China into a cycle of draconian shutdowns longer than any other country. China’s economy grew by 7 percent in 2017, and is set to grow by 2.8 percent this year, according to the World Bank.
But the five crisis-ridden years since the last national party congress have not only not harmed Xi, but only made him more powerful. “We have supported the dignity of China,” Xi said on Sunday.
By the end of this week, he is likely to secure a third term in office – his first since Mao Zedong in 1976 – and engrave his own “Xi Jinping Thought” alongside Mao’s into China’s constitution.
On Sunday, Xi devoted much more time to discussing national security theory and the party than in previous work reports, which have tended to focus on economic progress. “Be prepared to face strong winds, rough water and even dangerous storms,” Xi said.