UPDATE 3-Xi touts COVID fight, China economic model in party congress speech

(recasts, adds details from the speech)

By Yew Lun Tian and Ryan Woo

BEIJING, Oct 16 (Reuters) – President Xi Jinping on Sunday touted the ruling Communist Party’s fight against COVID-19 while reaffirming his support for the private sector and allowing markets to play a key role even if China is a ” socialist economic system” refined. .

Speaking at the start of a congress where he is widely expected to win a third term at the helm that will cement his place as the country’s most powerful ruler since Mao Zedong, Xi also hailed his taking control of the situation in Hong Kong rocked by anti-government protests by the party in 2019.

The twice-decade gathering of some 2,300 delegates from across the country kicked off in the vast Great Hall of the People on the west side of Tiananmen Square amid tight security and blue skies after several days of smog in the Chinese capital.

On Taiwan, Xi said, “We have resolutely waged a major struggle against separatism and interference, demonstrating our strong determination and ability to uphold state sovereignty and territorial integrity and oppose Taiwan’s independence.”

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Delegates, wearing blue face masks, responded with loud applause.

Xi said the party, which has 96 million members, has “won the biggest fight against poverty in human history.”

In his decade in power, Xi, 69, has led China down an increasingly authoritarian path that has prioritized security, state control of the economy in the name of “shared prosperity,” more assertive diplomacy, a stronger military, and increasing pressure for democratic power grabs ruled Taiwan.

Analysts generally do not expect a significant change in policy direction.

“We must build a high-level socialist market economy system … unswervingly consolidate and develop the public ownership system, unswervingly promote and support the development of the private sector, make full use of the crucial role of the market in the allocation of resources, and give a better role to the government.” game,” he said.

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On COVID, Xi said China has won international praise.

In recent days, Beijing has repeatedly reaffirmed its commitment to Xi’s zero-COVID strategy, shattering the hopes of countless Chinese citizens and investors that Beijing could begin to exit a policy anytime soon, fueling widespread frustration and economic turmoil caused damage.

Xi’s power appears undiminished by the turmoil of a year in which China’s economy has slowed dramatically, dragged down by frequent lockdowns from COVID-19 policies, a crisis in the real estate sector and the impact of his 2021 crackdown on the once free-running “platform economy.” and global headwinds.

China’s relations with the West have deteriorated sharply, worsened by Xi’s support of Russia’s Vladimir Putin.

The son of a Communist Party revolutionary, Xi revitalized a party that had become deeply corrupt and increasingly irrelevant, expanding its presence to all aspects of China, with Xi officially as its “core.”

Xi abolished presidential term limits in 2018, paving the way for him to break with precedent set in recent decades and rule for a third term of five years or more.

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Congress is expected to confirm Xi as party general secretary, China’s most powerful post, as well as chairman of the Central Military Commission. Xi’s presidency is set to be renewed at the annual session of China’s parliament in March.

Ahead of the congress, the Chinese capital stepped up safety precautions and COVID curbs, while steel mills in nearby Hebei Province were ordered to limit operations to improve air quality, an industry source said.

The day after the congress ends on Saturday, Xi is expected to unveil his new Politburo Standing Committee, a seven-member leadership team. It will include the person who will replace Li Keqiang as premier when Li steps down from the post in March after serving the maximum two terms.

(Reporting by Yew Lun Tian, ​​Ryan Woo, Martin Quin Pollard, Eduardo Baptista, and Kevin Yao; Writing by Tony Munroe; Editing by William Mallard)

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