Chinese Communist Party leader Xi Jinping repeatedly referenced challenges, hardships, and potential “complications” facing his country in 2019 during a speech Monday observing the new year, vowing to “create Chinese miracles” in the next 12 months.
Xi faced one of his most difficult years at the helm of the repressive communist dictatorship in 2018, facing growing international concern over his policies of militarizing foreign territory illegally, colonizing Africa, and enslaving its native Muslim population in internment camps. An increasingly challenging economic situation also defined China’s 2018 as the government of U.S. President Donald Trump imposed tariffs on various sectors of Chinese trade, demanding fairer trade deals for the American worker.
In his remarks Monday, Xi called 2018 “a full year, and we approached it with steadfast determination.”
“Despite all sorts of risks and challenges, we pushed our economy towards high-quality development, sped up the replacement of the old drivers of growth, and kept the major economic indicators within a reasonable range,” Xi claimed. “China’s reforms will never stop, and its doors will only open ever wider.”
He vowed to his audience that the Communist Party would always “rely on the people” for its enrichment.
“And now, looking forward, despite the complexities and difficulties we may face on the road ahead, we shall always closely rely on the people and stick to self-reliance and hard work,” Xi said, celebrating that “the Chinese people have been self-reliant and worked diligently to create Chinese miracles that the world has marveled at.”
“With rock-solid confidence, and racing against time with unwavering determination, we will carry forward our unprecedented great cause one resolute step after another, and leave enduring footprints behind us,” he concluded.
Xi used the speech as an opportunity to applaud the alleged progress that Beijing has made in eradicating poverty, claiming that ten million people in the nation were no longer living under the poverty line and “125 counties were removed from the country’s list of impoverished counties after going through evaluation this year.”
He nonetheless applauded and particularly noted the struggle of “people living in hardship” in the country, applauding Communist Party members working in poor and rural areas.
Xi’s focus on the poor is a necessary political move in light of growing dissatisfaction with his tenure on the part of not only human rights activists and others predisposed against the Communist Party, but self-proclaimed communists themselves. The year 2018 began with a national embarrassment for Xi: a photo of a boy named Wang Fuman, who had to walk 2.5 miles to school every day in the freezing cold because he could not afford to go to a school closer to home. The photo showed Wang’s hair covered in blue-white ice, his face red, sparking a national outcry for more aid to the poor.
Xi promised a focus on “common prosperity” in his speech Monday, but also hinted at corporate-friendly policies like lower taxes. China’s economy is fully controlled by the Communist Party, granting the illusion of private enterprise by placing the most lucrative businesses in the hands of trusted Communist Party leaders as individuals. This tactic grew ever more transparent in 2018 as Jack Ma, the head of the retail giant Ali Baba, revealed that he, too, was a longtime member of the Party.
Xi’s speech Monday, devoid of the cheerful and triumphant tenor that defined his addresses in 2017, differed from the tone in his address Saturday to the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, an agency of the Communist Party. According to the South China Morning Post, on that occasion, Xi “tried to talk up the country’s achievements over the past 12 months in a year-end speech that ignored or downplayed some of the major challenges.”
Economic highlights reportedly failed to appear in Xi’s remarks that day, given the currently languishing status of the economy under U.S. tariffs. Instead, Xi highlighted the alleged success of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), a sprawling infrastructure plan nominally meant to reconstruct the ancient Silk Road from China to Lisbon. The Global Times, a government newspaper, also printed a column on Monday, allegedly by an African national living in China, demanding further Chinese intervention in African economies. The column particularly chided African countries for not directly appealing to Chinese tourists, asking the continent to “enhance its cultural and education cooperation at a deeper level, beyond the simple linguistic interaction.”
China faces tremendous challenges in securing the trust of African people in 2019 after a 2018 that began with a New Year’s sketch featuring Chinese actors in blackface on government television and featured highlights such as a Chinese businessman getting deported from Kenya for calling the president a “monkey” and Kenyan workers on Chinese projects comparing their state of affairs at work to “apartheid.” African leaders have not allowed these instances to prevent them from requesting more loans from China, however, ensuring Beijing’s prolonged presence on the continent.