Xi lays out vision for 'new era'

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Communist Party Congress begins

BEIJING Chinese President Xi Jinping yesterday laid out a confident vision for a more prosperous nation and its role in the world, stressing the importance of wiping out corruption and curbing industrial overcapacity, income inequality and pollution.

Opening a critical Communist Party Congress, Mr Xi pledged to build a "modern socialist country" for a "new era" that will be proudly Chinese and steadfastly ruled by the party but open to the world.

Although his address made clear there were no plans for political reform, Mr Xi, 64, said China's development had entered a "new era", using the phrase 36 times in a speech that ran nearly 3½ hours.

"With decades of hard work, socialism with Chinese characteristics has crossed the threshold into a new era," Mr Xi said.

The twice-a-decade event, a week-long and mostly closed-door conclave, will culminate in the selection of a new Politburo Standing Committee to rule China's 1.4 billion people for the next five years.

Mr Xi is expected to consolidate his control and potentially retain power beyond 2022, when the next congress takes place.

The speech was heavy on aspiration and short on specific plans. On the economy, Mr Xi said China would relax market access for foreign investment, expand access to its services sector and deepen market-oriented reform of its exchange rate and financial system, while strengthening state companies.

During his first term, China disappointed many investors who had expected it to usher in more market-oriented reforms, especially in the debt-laden state sector.

Mr Damien Ma, fellow and associate director at US thinktank the Paulson Institute, told the Reuters Global Markets Forum: "If Mr Xi gets the political mandate that he is expected to out of the congress, then my hope is that the state sector reforms actually get done."

Mr Xi also promised that China would be fully engaged with the world, and reiterated pledges to tackle climate change.

He set bold goals for China's development, envisioning it as a "basically" modernised socialist country by 2035 and a modern socialist "strong power" with leading influence on the world stage by 2050.

But Mr Xi signalled there would be no significant political reforms, calling China's system the broadest, most genuine, and most effective way to safeguard the interests of the people.

"We should not just mechanically copy the political systems of other countries," he said. "We must unwaveringly uphold and improve party leadership and make the party still stronger."

Mr Xi praised the party's successes, particularly his high-profile anti-graft campaign in which more than a million officials have been punished and dozens of former senior officials jailed, saying it would never end as corruption was the "gravest threat" the party faces.

Focus at the conclave will be on how Mr Xi plans to use his expanded authority and his moves to enable him to stay on in a leadership capacity after his second term ends in 2022.

That could include resurrecting the position of party chairman, a title that would put him on par with Mao Zedong.

"...He is on the right track to be our next Chairman Mao," said a delegate from the north-western province of Qinghai Su Shengcheng.

"He will lead the party and Central Committee to continue its way to success." - REUTERS


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