Xi Jinping says China ‘will not seek to dominate’

man stands and watches a large screen during President Xi Jinping"s speech at a grand gathering to celebrate the 40th anniversary of China"s reform and opening-up in Beijing on December 18, 2018 in Harbin, ChinaImage copyrightGETTY IMAGES

Chinese President Xi Jinping has vowed that his country will not develop at the expense of other nations, in a speech marking 40 years since China introduced major economic reforms.

However, he also said that the global superpower would not be told what to do by anyone.

Late leader Deng Xiaoping’s campaign of “reform and opening up” began four decades ago.

The resulting growth has made China the second-largest economy in the world.

Hundreds of millions of people have been lifted out of poverty but in recent years China has struggled with mounting debt and slowing economic growth.

Mr Xi said despite his country’s economic achievements, China would “never seek global hegemony” and also highlighted its contributions towards a “shared future for mankind”.

He did not mention the current trade dispute with the United States.

China continues to crack down on political dissent and is accused of locking up hundreds of thousands of Muslims without trial in the western region of Xinjiang.

Its militarisation of islands in the South China Sea – home to vital shipping lanes – has sparked concerns among Asian neighbours that it seeks to dominate the region.

Critics also say that while China is helping to build much-needed infrastructure across Asia and Africa, it is saddling countries with billions in debt in a bid to gain strategic influence.

Mr Xi spent much of his lengthy speech listing examples of China’s progress over the past decades, praising them as “epic achievements that moved heaven and Earth”.

He said that given its success, “no-one is in a position to dictate to the Chinese people what should or should not be done”.

At the same time, he stressed what he described as Chinese efforts to work towards the greater global good, saying Beijing was a “promoter of world peace”, a “defender of international order” and holding “a leading role in dealing with climate change”.

China’s economic reform was initiated by then leader Deng Xiaoping in 1978 and the programme was ratified on 18 December that year.

The reform path turned the country away from the old-style communism of Mao Zedong when collectivisation had led to an impoverished and inefficient economy.

The transformation focussed on agricultural reform, private sector liberalisation, industry modernisation and opening to international trade.

Xi Jinping described the reforms as a “break from the shackles” of previous mistakes.

The audience of Xi Jinping's speech in the Great Hall of the PeopleImage copyrightREUTERS
Image captionChina’s reform process was kicked off in 1978

He said the last 40 years had been a “quantum leap for socialism with Chinese characteristics,” driving China’s “great rejuvenation in modern times”.

The Chinese president made no direct mention of the current trade dispute with the US but stressed his country’s contribution to economic globalisation and international order.

The row with the US has led to a spiral of tit-for-tat tariffs with potentially serious economic consequences for both China and the US should they fail to resolve the dispute.

In October US Vice-President Mike Pence accused China of a raft of illiberal economic policies, saying that “while Beijing still pays lip service to ‘reform and opening’, Deng Xiaoping’s famous policy now rings hollow”.

No political changes

Despite the economic reforms, the past decades have not brought change to China’s rigid one-party system of communist rule.

China’s president gave his speech on Tuesday in the Great Hall of the People in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square, where calls for political reforms were brutally crushed by the military in 1989.

Media captionJohn Sudworth reports from Xinjiang, where all filming and reporting by foreign media is tightly controlled

Xi Jinping is widely seen as China’s most influential leader since Mao Zedong. In 2017, he cemented his power, enshrining his political views in the constitution.

In his address, Mr Xi reiterated his belief in strengthening the party leadership and praised Beijing’s crackdown on corruption.

Critics say the rule of Xi Jinping has been marked by an ever-intensifying crackdown on political dissent and any groups that the Communist Party sees as a threat to its authority, such as unofficial Christian churches and labour activists.

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