Xi Jinping on Monday pledged to strengthen China’s security and build the military into a “great wall of steel” to defend the country’s interests as relations with the west reach the lowest point in decades.
The Chinese president’s speech to the nearly 3,000 delegates of the National People’s Congress comes at the close of the country’s annual rubber-stamp parliamentary session, during which Xi secured an unprecedented third term as president and appointed a close ally as his new number two.
After thanking delegates for his unanimous re-election on Friday, Xi said he would “build the military into a great wall of steel that effectively safeguards national sovereignty, security and our development interests”.
He also pledged to better marry “development and security”, stating “safety is the foundation of development, and stability is the prerequisite for prosperity”.
Xi’s focus on security comes as relations with the US have hit their lowest point in decades. China’s new foreign minister warned during the congress that Washington’s efforts to contain Beijing’s interests could drive the rival superpowers towards “conflict and confrontation”.
Tensions over Beijing’s claim to sovereignty over Taiwan, which the Chinese Communist party has never ruled but has threatened to subjugate by force, have also continued to rise. Xi said on Monday he would work to resolve the “Taiwan issue”, adding he “resolutely opposed external interference and Taiwan independence separatist activities”.
Amid mounting geopolitical tensions and an unresolved property crisis at home, Xi defied expectations and opted for stability among his top financial regulators. He retained central bank governor Yi Gang in his post and kept the finance and commerce ministers unchanged.
Xi also promoted a close associate He Lifeng from head of the state planning agency to vice-premier, a post in which he is expected to steward the country’s economic team.
“With the founding of the Communist party of China . . . and after a century of struggle, our national humiliation has been erased, and the Chinese people have become the masters of their own destiny,” Xi told delegates. “The Chinese nation’s great revival is on an irreversible path.”
The roughly week-long meetings in Beijing close on Monday after Xi pushed through extensive reforms to the country’s financial regulatory system. He also empowered the science and technology ministry to drive research advancements to compete with the west.
China must “rejuvenate the country through science and education”, Xi said, vowing to put the country on a course to “self-reliance and strength in science and technology”.
Additional reporting by Nian Liu in Beijing