China will continue to reform, but on its own terms, says President Xi
In a sweeping speech lasting an hour-and-a-half, the Chinese leader took stock of the great strides China has made in the past four decades since it embarked on a campaign to lift itself from poverty and oppression, and urged his countrymen to “create new and bigger miracles” that would earn the respect of the world.
President’s Xi’s milestone address at the Great Hall of the People to hundreds of officials, business leaders and diplomats is a culmination of a year of celebrations and events marking the 40th anniversary of the country’s transformation led by patriarch Deng Xiaoping.
While he paid tribute to reformers like Mr Deng and others who have contributed to the endeavour over the years, Mr Xi also struck a more ambitious, if defiant tone, maintaining that China’s reforms must be in line with its goal of developing a socialist system with Chinese characteristics.
“China is a massive country with a population of more than 1.3 billion people and a civilisation extending back more than 5,000 years. When it comes to reform and development, there are no textbooks that teach the golden rules nor are there expert teachers to dictate such rules to the people of China,” he said in an assertive speech that was long on broad strokes and short on specifics.
“We must respect the right of people of all countries to choose their own development path, safeguard international justice, advocate the democratisation of international relations, oppose the imposition of one’s will on others, oppose the interference in other countries’ internal affairs, and oppose bullying,” he said, in what could be viewed as a veiled reference to the United States, with which China was locked in a trade war.
But in the same breath, Mr Xi reiterated an oft-repeated assurance of China’s peaceful rise, saying that “no matter how far China develops, it will never seek hegemony”.
He promised to support the private sector, promote innovation and solve the unbalanced development that has resulted in a huge wealth disparity in the country, but did not go into details.
President Xi also pledged to build a strong army that would not only safeguard China’s sovereignty but was also commensurate with its international status as an emerging superpower.
Reasserting the one-China principle, Mr Xi said, to thunderous applause from the audience, that “not an inch of the motherland’s sacred territory can be broken up”.
In a symbolic gesture, China also honoured 100 Chinese nationals and 10 foreigners for their contributions to the nation’s reform and opening up, including Singapore’s late founding prime minister Lee Kuan Yew.
Scientists, artists and entrepreneurs such as Alibaba founder Jack Ma, Tencent’s chief executive officer Pony Ma and former NBA basketball player Yao Ming were on stage to receive their awards.
Asian stocks dipped on Tuesday as investors, who had anticipated that Mr Xi would address China’s slowing economy, were left disappointed.
The two countries are on a 90-day truce while they thrash out trade terms.