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What we learned about COVID, Taiwan and whether Xi Jinping is in the mood to step down

If this were a normal party congress, then the speech of President Xi Jinping might have been his last.

This isn’t a regular party congress. Instead, the speech felt more like a consolidation and an enshrining, of Xi’s vision, Xi’s path, and Xi’s China.

The party congress is the largest political event in the country and is undoubtedly the most significant in many decades. It is held every five years. The main purpose of the congress is to choose the leaders for the next term.

Day one begins with a “work report” from the president. This allows for reflection on the past five years and sets priorities for the future.

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Based on decades of precedent, it is now Xi’s turn to step down after completing two terms and being in power for ten years.

It’s almost certain that this will not happen. In 2018, he successfully removed the two-term limit from the constitution, which means that he could theoretically be the leader for the rest of his life.

Even though today was in theory more about personnel than policy, all eyes were on Mr. Speaker.

It was a speech that reaffirmed his main goals and ideas. Perhaps most important, his promise of “national revitalizion” for China. This is a highly nationalistic vision in which China is proud of its place in the world as well as the control it has over its people.

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“China will not renounce force”

It was obvious that a strong China must have a strong Communist Party. Indeed, under Xi, the party has penetrated far deeper and further into ordinary people’s lives than it has in decades.

Many Chinese people will have listened carefully to his comments about the ongoing Zero-COVID policy.

It easing is not something anyone expected to learn.

“We have adhered the supremacy to the people as well as the supremacy to life,” Xi stated. “We are committed putting people first and adhering to dynamic zero COVID.”

It was, however, a brief mention in light of the current widespread use of zero-COVID regulations within people’s daily lives. This speech was almost two hours long. It was not mentioned and it was not referred to again, perhaps as a reminder of people’s frustration.

received the loudest applause of the more than 2,000 attendees when he spoke on the “reunification” of Taiwan. This is the self-governing island China considers its own.

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He reiterated China’s long-standing policy of peaceful reunification, but said that China will not “promise to abandon the use of force” and would “reserve all options.”

Yes, it is hard language, but not necessarily more difficult than what we have heard before. There is no commitment to any timetable or timeline for an invasion. China would find war over Taiwan very expensive and will likely want to continue exploring its options.

The economy was also a major theme with a lot of emphasis on the “common prosperity project” which aims at tackling inequality and “eradiating” extreme poverty in China.

However, the most serious challenges facing the economy today were not mentioned. These include the crisis in the housing sector as well as the zero-COVID stranglehold.

It was all in all a confident speech by a confident leader. Ten years ago, there was discontent in China over issues like corruption.

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He has fulfilled many of his promises; China is now stronger and richer than it was before he took office. And corruption has been mostly beaten to the curb.

It is also more secure, controlled and paranoid.

Xi has greatly increased his power and the power of the state over the past decade. He’s intensified surveillance and censorship, and he’s clamped down on foreign investment and ideas.

He has brutally expelled his rivals, and has taken a hard line against the media, private companies, and civil society.

He has not been able to bring about the change he promised, but he has managed to control it. China’s path is the same as his, and he is here to stay.

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