Delivering a strong message to China’s neighbours and world powers, President Xi Jinping said on Wednesday that his country will not give up its legitimate rights or let anyone undermine its interests.
Addressing the 19th National Congress of the ruling Communist Party of China (CPC) at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, Xi also said that the country will enhance relations along its borders and open up more to the world. He further advocated a strong, modernised military that can deter and win wars.
“China will never pursue development at the expense of others’ interests, but nor will China ever give up its legitimate rights and interests. No one should expect China to swallow anything that undermines its interests,” Xi said, adding that the country would never seek “hegemony or engage” in any expansion.
Delivering a three-and-a-half-hour speech during the opening ceremony of the week-long Congress, the Chinese President also underscored the importance of the “five principles of peaceful coexistence” or Panchsheel — the set of principles that India and China agreed to in 1954. “China will deepen relations with its neighbours in accordance with the principles of amity, sincerity, mutual benefit and inclusiveness and the policy of forging friendship and partnership with its neighbours,” Xi said.
The Chinese President’s speech comes against the backdrop of a recent face-off between the Chinese and Indian armies in the Doklam area east of Sikkim. The standoff was defused late in August, days before the BRICS summit in Xiamen where Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Xi agreed to strengthen communication lines and coordination.
On Wednesday, Xi also asserted that China would never allow separatist activity in the country, in what appeared to be an indirect reference to the Dalai Lama. “Any separatist activity is certain to meet with resolute opposition of the Chinese people. We will never allow anyone, any organisation, or any political party, at any time or in any form to separate any part of Chinese territory from China,” he said.
China, which protested against the Dalai Lama’s visit to Arunachal Pradesh earlier this year, has repeatedly referred to the spiritual leader as an “anti-China separatist”.
Referring to national security, Xi said, “We will improve our national defence mobilisation system, and build a strong, well-structured and modern border defence, coastal defence and air defence.” He added that the government would accelerate development in border areas and ensure their safety and security, and step up efforts to ensure that China becomes a strong maritime country.
Xi acknowledged that contentious issues often arose in some regions and that unconventional security threats like “terrorism, cyber insecurity, major infectious diseases and climate change” continue to spread. The Chinese government has always maintained that regional conflicts include the Korean Peninsula, the South China Sea, Kashmir and Afghanistan.
“We should commit to settling disputes through dialogue and resolving differences through discussion, coordinate responses to traditional and non-traditional threats, and oppose terrorism in all its forms,” Xi said.
The Chinese President said that China rejected “cold war mentality and power politics” and preferred developing state-to-state relations with “communication, not confrontation, partnership not alliance”. “We… oppose acts that impose one’s will on others or interfere in the internal affairs of others as well as the practice of the strong bullying the weak,” he said.
The President also vowed to make it his mission to modernise China’s military within the next two decades. “We will upgrade our military capabilities, and see that by the year 2020, mechanisation is basically achieved… Make it our mission to see that by 2035, the modernisation of our national defence and forces is basically completed,” he said.
Xi said that the military would be strengthened to adapt to the “new era” and would have to shoulder the “missions and tasks of the new era entrusted to them by the party and the people”.
“A military is built to fight. Our military must regard combat capability as the criterion to meet in all its work and focus on how to win when it is called on. We will develop new combat forces and support forces, conduct military training under combat conditions…and the ability to fight under multidimensional conditions. This will enable us to effectively shape our military posture, manage crises, and deter and win wars,” he said.
Xi also summarised the party’s work since he took over as general secretary in 2012 and laid out the agenda for the next five years. Flanked by former presidents Hu Jintao and Jiang Zemin during the ceremony, Xi’s address also focussed on the need to continue the anti-corruption agenda within his party.
Over the next week, the Congress will discuss the party’s performance and policies fundamental to China’s development, elect a new leadership team, including the Central Committee of the CPC and the country’s top anti-graft body, and amend the CPC constitution to include Xi’s thoughts on governance.