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‘Great wall of steel’: Xi vows to protect China economy, security

President Xi Jinping has pledged to transform China’s military into a “Great Wall of Steel” capable of protecting China’s interests abroad, while also stressing the need for greater stability and security at home.

Xi’s remarks came in his closing speech to the National People’s Congress, China’s parliament, where he received unanimous support last week for an unprecedented third term in office.

Despite recently reaffirming his status as one of today’s China’s most powerful leaders, Xi alluded to the many challenges China faces as it navigates a post-zero COVID landscape, a slowing economy and a more challenging relationship with the West, especially the United States. .

“Security is the basis of development, while stability is a precondition for prosperity,” Xi told the assembly of 3,000 delegates on Monday.

He also stressed the need for an improved “national security system”, an improved “social governance system” and the protection of “China’s new development pattern with a new security architecture”.

The speech echoed similar concerns shared at the Communist Party’s 20th National Congress in October, when Xi used the word “security” 91 times, according to the US-based Brookings Institution.

“Security is the most important thing in party politics. His (Xi’s) people can secure his position and then he can have many, many terms, even a lifetime term. Of course, security is very important,” Alfred Muluan Wu, an associate professor at the National University of Singapore’s Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, told Al Jazeera.

“Externally, the most important thing is that he tries to paint an image that he wants people to think he can protect China. So in many of his documents or speeches he always mentions that China is now actually surrounded by the hostile United States and also its Western allies, so they have to fight very, very hard for China.

China is in the middle of a massive military modernization campaign, which will be able to “effectively protect national sovereignty, security and development interests” when it ends in 2035, Xi said, when its armed forces will become a “Great Wall of Steel” . .

As it takes another decade, China already wields tremendous influence in the region with its powerful People’s Liberation Army, military base and island building in the South China Sea, and influence over domestic politics in neighboring countries from Cambodia to Micronesia.

The PLA plays an important role in China’s ongoing campaign to reclaim Taiwan, either through peaceful or vigorous “national reunification”.

Xi mentioned self-governed democracy in his speech on Monday, calling for an end to “Taiwanese separatist independence activities” and “external interference” in a thinly veiled reference to the US, Taiwan’s main military ally.

He also appeared to be offering Taiwan the “one country, two systems” arrangement we know from Hong Kong and Macau, which in theory would provide some autonomy under Beijing’s rule, but in practice is an extremely unpopular offer for Taiwanese .

Xi’s concerns about “security” also extend to the home front, where officials have set a modest target of just 5 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) by 2023, reflecting the lasting effect of three years of the zero-COVID strategy.

China typically sees tens of thousands of protests over issues such as land expropriation, but protests became more widespread in late 2022 as ordinary Chinese became irked by the policy’s economic and social restrictions.

The country also suffers from uneven development between urban and rural areas and growing wealth inequality.

However, Xi told delegates on Monday about China’s continued efforts to ensure the “great rejuvenation” of the Chinese nation for all citizens.

“The relay baton of building a great modern socialist country and promoting national rejuvenation has historically been passed down to our generation,” he said, calling for efforts to “upgrade and appropriately expand the economy” by also focusing on areas such as science and technology. as an industrial transformation that will benefit the entire economy.