Xi Jinping secures third term and calls for national resolve

Analysts say the Chinese president now has near total political control of the country

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Xi Jinping, who first took office in 2012, secured a third term as China's leader on Sunday, cementing his position as the nation's most influential leader since founder Mao Zedong.

His anointment in a closed-door vote on Sunday came after a week-long gathering of the party faithful in Beijing during which they endorsed Mr Xi's “core position” and approved a sweeping reshuffle that involved former rivals stepping down.

The Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party elected Mr Xi as its general secretary for another five-year term, tilting the country decisively back towards one-man rule after decades of power-sharing among its elite.

Mr Xi's time in office has seen China's economy almost double in size, with its gross domestic product reaching nearly $18 trillion, while the government has invested heavily in defence, building the largest navy in the world.

Mr Xi's third term as China's president is due to be formally announced during the government's annual legislative sessions in March.

China's 20th Congress wrapped up on Saturday after electing the new Central Committee of around 200 senior party officials, who gathered on Sunday to elect the Standing Committee — the apex of Chinese political power at which Mr Xi sits firmly at the top.

In a speech on Saturday, Mr Xi emphasised that China would continue “opening up” economically and that he understood the need for the country's continued integration into the global economy.

“China cannot develop in isolation from the world. The world’s development also needs China,” Mr Xi said, addressing an audience of Chinese and overseas journalists after the close of the party’s congress.

The remarks appeared to address growing strains between Beijing and Washington, which have seen a number of western corporations reduce their presence in China, in part under US pressure but increasingly due to concerns that China's economic policies run counter to global free trade.

Mr Xi was bullish on China's economic prospects, however, promising that economic reform would prioritise growth.

“We will firmly fully deepen reform and opening up, firmly push forward high-quality development,” he said.

A number of world leaders, including Russian President Vladimir Putin, Pakistan Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif and North Korea's Kim Jong Un, sent congratulations on Sunday.

The Russian government released a statement saying Mr Putin looked forward to a “comprehensive partnership” between Russia and China. North Korea's Mr Kim sent a letter of congratulations, state media reported.

UAE President Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed sent a congratulatory cable to Mr Xi, as did Vice President, Prime Minister and Ruler of Dubai Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid

In Pakistan, which enjoys close trade links with major aid donor China, Mr Sharif tweeted his congratulations to “President Xi Jinping on his re-election as CPC General Secretary for the 3rd term … on behalf of the entire Pakistan nation.”

One-man rule

Since becoming the country's leader a decade ago, Mr Xi has achieved a concentration of power like no modern Chinese ruler other than Mao.

He abolished the presidential two-term limit in 2018, paving the way for him to govern indefinitely.

Mr Xi has also overseen China's rise as the world's second-biggest economy, a huge military expansion and a far more aggressive global posture that has drawn strong opposition from the US.

He is also known as the architect of China's Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), a nearly $1 trillion global plan to build transport, energy and extractive industry infrastructure between Asia and Europe, which has encountered challenges including unsustainable debt in some participating countries, such as Pakistan and Sri Lanka.

Despite nearly unchecked power, Mr Xi faces huge challenges over the next five years, including managing the nation's debt-ridden economy and the growing US rivalry.

Sunday's vote brings to an end a triumphant week in which China's top brass have hailed their leadership of the country over the last five years.

In his opening speech to its 20th Congress last Sunday, Mr Xi lauded the party's achievements while glossing over domestic problems such as the stalling economy and the damage inflicted by his harsh zero-Covid-19 policy.

He also urged party members to steel themselves against numerous challenges, including a hardening geopolitical climate.

Analysts were closely watching for whether the party charter would be amended to enshrine “Xi Jinping Thought” as a guiding philosophy, a move that would put Mr Xi on a par with Mao.

That did not take place, though a resolution did call his creed “the Marxism of contemporary China and of the 21st century”, adding that it “embodies the best Chinese culture and ethos of this era”.

Updated: October 23, 2022, 11:20 AM