BEIJING: Chinese President Xi Jinping on Wednesday 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 crucial Communist Party congress, Xi pledged to build a “modern socialist country” for a “new era” that would be proudly Chinese and steadfastly ruled by the party but open to the world.

Although his wide-ranging address made clear there were no plans for political reform, Xi said China’s development had entered a “new era”, using the phrase 36 times in a speech that ran for nearly three-and-a-half hours.

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

The twice-a-decade event, a weeklong, 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, with Xi expected to consolidate his control and potentially retain power beyond 2022, when the next congress takes place.

Delegate says Xi Jinping on track to become next ‘Chairman Mao’

The 64-year-old Xi, widely regarded as the most powerful Chinese leader since Mao Zedong, spoke to more than 2,000 delegates in Beijing’s cavernous, red-carpeted Great Hall of the People, including 91-year-old former president Jiang Zemin. Security was tight on a rainy, smoggy day in the capital.

On the economy, 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 at the same time strengthening state firms.

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

The European Union Chamber of Commerce in China said it welcomed commitments to open wider the door and treat all companies equally, but said the European companies operating in China continued to suffer from “promise fatigue”.

“The only cure for this is promise implementation,” it said in a statement.

In what was probably an indirect reference to US President Donald Trump’s ‘America First’ policy, Xi promised that China would be fully engaged with the world, and reiterated pledges to tackle climate change. Trump this year opted to withdraw the United States from the Paris climate pact.

“No country can alone address the many challenges facing mankind; no country can afford to retreat into self-isolation,” Xi told the delegates, among them Buddhist monks, Olympic medallists, farmers and at least one astronaut.

Xi set bold long-term 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 he 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.”

Published in Dawn, October 19th, 2017

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