2018-03-26, KARL WILSON and XINHUA

As ceremonial music echoed throughout the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, Xi Jinping took his place on the podium.

The music stopped when he reached toward a large copy of China’s red-bound Constitution.

Dressed in a dark suit, Xi, 64, placed his left hand on the Constitution, raised his right hand to his temple and made a fist of solidarity.

“I pledge my allegiance to the Constitution,” Xi began.

“(To) safeguard the Constitution’s authority, fulfill my legal obligations, be loyal to the country and the people, be committed and honest in my duty, accept the people’s supervision and work hard for a great modern socialist country that is prosperous, strong, democratic, culturally advanced, harmonious and beautiful.”

He bowed, and the nearly 3,000 National People’s Congress (NPC) deputies broke spontaneously into thunderous applause.

Watched by tens of millions on their televisions or smartphones, it was the first time a Chinese president had ever taken such an oath upon assuming office.

Xi has been in the spotlight this month at the annual sessions of the NPC and the National Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, commonly known as the two sessions.

On March 17, he was unanimously elected president of the People’s Republic of China and chairman of the Central Military Commission of the PRC.

Xi first took over the presidency five years ago, pledging to push forward the great cause of socialism with Chinese characteristics and to strive for rejuvenation of the Chinese nation.

In his closing address to the country’s top legislative session on March 20, Xi said: “China has continuously striven for its dream of realizing great national rejuvenation for over 170 years. Turning the grand blueprint for China into reality is the new Long March.”

Much work, however, still needs to be done before the dream can be realized.

Xi said: “We need to deepen reform more comprehensively and broaden opening-up with intensified efforts and with more concrete measures.”

“We should guide our country towards a future full of hope,” he said, adding that the new era “belongs to everyone”.

“Nothing can stop us fulfilling our dream,” he said.

Nearly five months ago, Xi was re-elected general secretary of the Communist Party of China (CPC) Central Committee. The Party’s 19th National Congress enshrined in the CPC Constitution Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era.

This month, at the 13th NPC session, Xi Jinping Thought was added into the country’s Constitution as a guiding principle of the State. 

Led by Xi, China is becoming strong.

The size of the economy has expanded to more than 82 trillion yuan ($12.9 trillion) from 54 trillion yuan over the past five years, growing by 7.1 percent a year on average. More than 66 million new urban jobs have been created.

Consumption has become a major growth driver, contributing to 58.8 percent of economic growth last year, up from 54.9 percent five years ago. The share of the services sector has climbed to 51.6 percent from 45.3 percent.

More than 68 million people escaped poverty. Personal income increased by 7.4 percent annually on average. Life expectancy reached 76.7 years, leading developing countries.

The environment is improving as strict rules on water, soil and air pollution control have been enforced. Notably, over the five years, the number of heavily polluted days in major cities was halved.

The new ministry for ecological environment will absorb the duties formerly held separately by land, water and agriculture ministries.

Xi made this happen through reform. He is regarded as the chief architect. Over the last five years more than 1,500 reform measures were issued, affecting economic, political, social, cultural and environmental fields, national defense and Party-building. Government red tape was cut. Foreign investment was made easier.

A week after the 19th Party Congress, Xi took leading officials to the Party’s birthplace in Shanghai and East China’s Zhejiang province, a “roots-tracing” trip to remind cadres of the Party’s original aspirations.

“The CPC seeks happiness for the Chinese people,” Xi said in an NPC panel discussion. “Whatever issues the people are unhappy about or dissatisfied with, we must work hard to solve them.”

In his closing address, Xi reiterated the point that it is the people “who have created the history”. And he urged all civil servants to “always put people at the highest place, wholeheartedly serve the people and work for the people’s interests and happiness”.

Professor James Laurenceson, deputy director of the Australia-China Relations Institute at the University of Technology Sydney, said this year’s two sessions was “probably more significant than previous ones”.

He told China Daily Asia Weekly that changes to the Constitution, the Party and government are significant, but “we won’t know the full implications for some time”.

He said Xi’s standing among the Chinese people is high.

“He is popular and seen as doing a good job,” Laurenceson said, adding that Xi’s anti-corruption campaign was welcomed by the people.

“Five years ago, corruption was a serious problem. True, corruption has not been totally eradicated, but it is much better today than it was five years ago. This is a fact … it’s not made up.”

The creation of a new anti-corruption super agency with massively expanded powers will enable it to question, interrogate, freeze assets and put individuals into detention during its investigations.

For the first time in history, a billion-plus people are crossing the threshold of modernization together. Challenges like material shortages and the wealth gap will be overcome. People will feel much more fulfilled, happier and safer.

Shen Jilan, 89, is a witness to the profound changes over time.

A farmer in North China’s Shanxi province, Shen was first elected to the NPC in 1954 and was re-elected 12 times in a row.

The octogenarian likes to describe the changes in her annual commute to the Great Hall of the People. In 1954, she spent four days on the back of a donkey, a truck bed and then a train to reach Beijing. Today, the capital is just three hours away by high-speed train.

China is indeed on a high-speed train, one that is moving toward the full development of human potential, as envisioned by Karl Marx. 

This explains China’s growing relevance to the world. After all, it is exploring a path to advance humanity.

This year marks the 200th birthday of Marx and the 170th anniversary of the issuance of The Communist Manifesto.

Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era is considered the latest adaptation of Marxism to the Chinese context.

Today, China’s annual contribution to world economic growth is bigger than that of the United States, Japan and the eurozone combined. It accounts for more than 70 percent of poverty reduction worldwide. 

Rajiv Biswas, Asia-Pacific chief economist with IHS Markit, said the economic reform priorities adopted by the NPC will continue to build on key economic strategies initiated during the first five years of President Xi’s leadership. 

“A key priority for the CPC Central Committee under the leadership of Xi Jinping as general secretary will be to modernize the structure of the Chinese economy to ensure it can maintain strong growth momentum in the long term,” he told China Daily Asia Weekly.

“As China has become an upper middle income country, a key focus of government reforms is to develop new strategic industries as highlighted in the Made in China 2025 strategy launched in 2015.”

Biswas said the Belt and Road Initiative will also be an important economic priority, to accelerate infrastructure development in developing countries and improve connectivity to boost South-South trade and investment flows. 

China raised the Belt and Road Initiative and other major proposals to champion global governance, free trade and an open global economy.

Xi-style diplomacy is also highly praised for building a new type of major country relations and a “community with a shared future for mankind”.

Vladimir Petrovsky, a senior researcher at the Institute of Far Eastern Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences, said a feature of major country diplomacy with Chinese characteristics is that China raised nonconfrontational proposals, which did not lead to clashes but contributed to improving the existing international order.

In the past few months, Xi has held talks with US President Donald Trump on bilateral ties and China-US cooperation on regional and international levels. Key progress has been achieved and consensus reached.

Xi maintained close, high-level exchanges with Russia, pushing for all-around cooperation in all fields and closer communication and coordination on international affairs.

Xi’s deep connection to the people was formed early in his life.

The son of a revolutionary leader, at the age of 15 he joined numerous “educated youth” who bid farewell to urban life and headed to the countryside to learn from farmers.

Xi was sent to a small, isolated village in Northwest China’s Shaanxi province and stayed on for seven years. These formative years taught him the real situation on the ground and shaped his belief in pragmatic approaches and the mass line.

In the following decades, Xi rose from the grassroots to the very top. His work experience in the military, a poor rural county and wealthy coastal regions enriched his leadership skills.

Xi entered the Standing Committee of the Political Bureau of the CPC Central Committee in 2007 and was elected general secretary of the CPC Central Committee in 2012. He has become the core of the CPC Central Committee and the whole Party.

In Xi’s view, the Party’s leadership over every area is key for China to achieve its goals in the new era.

To keep the Party clean, he launched an unprecedented anti-corruption campaign, investigating 440 senior officials who held provincial-level positions or above, among others.

Overall, more than 1.5 million officials were punished.

“If we had not offended hundreds of corrupt officials, we would have offended 1.3 billion Chinese people,” Xi said.

While the campaign has built into a crushing tide, Xi said it must not stop.

The action to “take out tigers” and “swat flies” continued after the 19th Party Congress. The most recently fallen high-ranking officials include the former head of the cyberspace administration, Lu Wei, army generals Zhang Yang and Fang Fenghui, and former State councilor Yang Jing.

He also pushed forward reform of the supervisory system, strengthening the CPC’s centralized and unified leadership in the graft fight.

Xi has called on officials in charge to “bite the hardest bones and catch the hottest potatoes” to tackle problems.

At the two sessions, Xi stressed adherence to a system of CPC-led multiparty cooperation and political consultation, saying it was a new type of party system growing from China’s soil and contributed to the political civilization of humanity.

Political adviser and entrepreneur Yu Minhong could not agree more. Yu is a member of the China Democratic League (CDL), one of the eight non-Communist parties in China. But he is better known as the chairman of New Oriental, a leading education company.

For years, Yu has been helping poor rural students get proper schooling. His proposal for rural teacher pay raises led to changes to government policy.

Ding Zhongli, chairman of the CDL party’s central committee, said the ruling party and the non-Communist parties cooperate well under the system, working toward the common goal of national development.

Fred Teng, president of the America China Public Affairs Institute, said that through the multiparty cooperation system, policymakers can draw up the best policies and achieve the best results.

Xi, in a panel discussion with lawmakers from South China’s Guangdong province, highlighted development, talent and innovation.

Guangdong has been on the front line of reform and opening-up. This year marks the 40th anniversary of the drive, which led to decades of consistent and fast economic growth.

During an inspection in East China’s Jiangsu province in December, Xi said more emphasis needed to be placed on the economy’s quality rather than speed, and every industry and every enterprise should follow the change.

China is setting sail toward a modernized economy with Xi at the helm.

Xi Jinping Thought on Socialist Economy with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era was raised at the Central Economic Work Conference in December.

Areas for deepening reform include public institutions, State-owned enterprises, industrial monopolies, property rights protection, taxation, finance, rural development, social security and the environment. A modernized economy is the goal.

At the two sessions, Xi’s speeches touched more fields than the economy, including Party-building, rule of law, poverty reduction, environmental protection, social governance and military-civilian integration.

Ma Huateng, also known as Pony Ma, the Internet tycoon and chairman of Tencent Holdings, said Xi’s speeches were so profound that he took six full pages of notes.

“The general secretary said we should make innovation a powerful driver of quality development, and I think it is an insightful remark,” he said. “It will be a new opportunity for our innovative enterprises.”

Li Shumu, an NPC deputy and a village Party secretary in the county of Yinan, East China’s Shandong province, said farmers in his village feel encouraged as Xi has drawn a beautiful blueprint for the countryside.

Air Force officer Liu Rui said the armed forces must firmly adhere to Xi’s order to make combat capability the fundamental criterion to judge their work.

People are curious about what changes Xi will bring to China and the world.

The two years to 2020 are crucial. China aims to complete the building of a moderately prosperous society by then. Extreme poverty will be history.

Looking further ahead, China aims to basically achieve modernization by 2035 and build a great modern socialist country by the middle of the century.

Realizing this Chinese Dream of national rejuvenation requires policy continuity and hard work.

On top of that, China needs authoritative, centralized, unified leadership.

With more than 89 million members, the CPC is driving China toward new economic and social advancement, blazing a new trail of socialism.

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