China’s leader Xi Jinping on Monday vowed to bolster national security and build the military into a “great wall of steel,” in the first speech of his precedent-breaking third term as president.
Speaking at the closing of the annual meeting of China’s rubber-stamp parliament, Xi underscored the need to comprehensively modernize national defense and the military.
“(We must) build the People’s Liberation Army into a great wall of steel that effectively safeguards national sovereignty, security, and development interests,” Xi told the nearly 3,000 delegates of the National People’s Congress (NPC).
Xi, 69, was unanimously endorsed by the NPC as China’s president for another five years in a choreographed and ceremonial vote Friday, making him the longest-serving head of state of Communist China since its founding in 1949.
At the start of his speech Monday, Xi thanked the delegates for his reappointment.
“This is my third time assuming the lofty position as president. The trust of the people is the biggest driving force for me to move forward, and also a heavy responsibility on my shoulders,” he said.
Like his many previous speeches, Xi struck a nationalist tone, citing the hardships China suffered at the hands of “bullying foreign powers” in the modern era and noting how the Communist Party has led the country to “wipe clean the national humiliation.”
“The Chinese people have become the masters of their own destiny,” he said. “The great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation has entered an irreversible historical process.”
According to Xi the “essence” of that rejuvenation is “national unification,” namely “reunifying” Taiwan with mainland China.
The Chinese Communist Party claims the self-governing democracy of Taiwan as part of its territory, despite having never controlled it, and refuses to rule out the use of force.
Under Xi, Beijing has ramped up economic, diplomatic and military pressure on the island democracy. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which Beijing has not condemned, has also increased fears Xi might look to do something similar in the years ahead.
“We must… actively promote peaceful development of cross-strait relations, firmly oppose interference of external forces and Taiwan’s separatist activities, and resolutely advance the process of national reunification,” Xi said to a loud burst of applause in the Great Hall of the People.
Xi also called for China to better coordinate development and security.
“Security is the foundation for development, stability is the prerequisite for prosperity,” he said.
Over his first decade in power, Xi has unleashed sweeping reforms on the Chinese military to make it a modern fighting force, and built its navy into the largest in the world.
China’s annual military budget will increased by 7.2% this year to roughly 1.55 trillion yuan ($224 billion), amid rising geopolitical tensions and a regional arms race.
He has also consolidated his control over both the military and civilian arms of government to become China’s most assertive and dominant leader in a generation.
The emphasis on strengthening security and military comes as China’s relations with the United States are stuck at their lowest point in decades, with tensions soaring across sectors from trade and technology to geopolitics, especially the future of Taiwan.
Last week, in unusually direct remarks, Xi accused the US of leading Western countries to “contain and suppress” China and bring it “unprecedented severe challenges.”
Xi’s new foreign minister, Qin Gang, warned that if the US doesn’t “hit the brakes,” the two superpowers will surely descend into “conflict and confrontation.”