BEIJING – China’s newly installed president, Xi Jinping, said Sunday he would fight for a “great renaissance of the Chinese nation,” in his first speech as head of the world’s most populous country.
Xi called for “arduous efforts for the continued realization of the great renaissance of the Chinese nation and the Chinese dream,” in a speech at the National People’s Congress in Beijing.
Such calls for a revival in the world’s second-largest economy have been a motif of Xi’s speeches since he took the top post in China’s ruling Communist Party in November, but he has not given a detailed account of the phrase’s meaning.
He has close ties to China’s expanding military and called for the armed forces to strengthen their ability to “win battles.” Beijing is embroiled in a bitter territorial row with Japan over islands in the East China Sea, and with neighboring nations over claims to the South China Sea.
Xi’s 25-minute address stressed continuity with previous Chinese leaders, thanking outgoing President Hu Jintao, who stood and bowed as China completed the once-in-a-decade transition of its top leaders.
Xi also touched on corruption — a sore point with the public — which he has called a threat to the party’s grip on power. He urged delegates to “oppose hedonism and flamboyant lifestyles.”
The speech formally brought the two-week congress in Beijing’s Great Hall of the People to a close, and was followed by new Chinese Premier Li Keqiang stepping into the spotlight for a rare news conference. He took control of the day-to-day running of the government Friday, a day after Xi was handed the title of president.
Li rejected U.S. accusations of cyberhacking, after President Barack Obama weighed in on the issue, calling them “groundless,” but said the relationship with Washington was vital and the two sides should work to ensure their mutual interests outweigh their differences.
“Conflicts between big powers are not inevitable,” he said.
Li pledged to strengthen economic reforms.
“What the market can do, we should release more to the market, what society can do well, we should give to society,” Li said, without providing specific examples of any planned changes.
Increasing prosperity is a key part of the Communist Party’s claim to the right to rule, and its consensus view is that China needs economic reform to maintain growth, while avoiding political changes that could threaten its grip on power.
The new premier handled the rare set-piece encounter with the foreign press, for which questions had to be submitted in advance, in a relaxed manner, smiling and occasionally joking with reporters.
He also vowed to fight corruption, saying the government had an “unshakable resolve” to do so.
“Clean government should start with oneself,” he said. “Since we have chosen public service we should give up all thought of making money.”
China’s leaders have come under fire in the past year after reports that the families of top politicians — including Xi — have amassed huge wealth, but have not vowed to make their assets public.
A career bureaucrat who speaks fluent English, Li has a more youthful bearing than his stiff party peers. But his real power comes from his position as No. 2 in the Communist Party, where analysts say his lack of close allies means he will struggle to push through reforms.