Party Congress in China ends - Xi Jinping further expands his power. What does it mean for the world?

China's state and party leader Xi Jinping has further expanded his power at the Communist Party Congress in Beijing.The 69-year-old plans to begin an unusual third term as general secretary on Sunday, defying previously respected age limits.

That loyal inner circle has not only strengthened Xi’s hold on power – but also tightened his grip over China’s future. To an extent unseen in decades, the country’s trajectory is shaped by the vision and ambition of one man, with minimal room for discord or recalibration at the party’s apex of power.

China and the West

Xi steps into his next era in power facing a significantly different landscape to his previous two terms. The relationship between China and the West has changed dramatically with US-China relations cratering over a trade and tech war, frictions over Taiwan, Covid-19, Beijing’s human rights record and its refusal to condemn Russia’s war in Ukraine.

Xi’s work report, a five-yearly action plan delivered during the congress, pointed to “drastic changes” on the international landscape, including “external attempts to blackmail, contain, blockade, and exert maximum pressure” on China – terms often used by Chinese diplomats to decry US actions.

“It is clear that Xi sees China having entered a period primarily of struggle in the international arena rather than a period of opportunity,” said Andrew Small, author of “No Limits: The Inside Story of China’s War with the West.”

An expectation that ties will deteriorate further “is resulting in a China that is far more openly engaged in systemic rivalry with the West – greater assertiveness, more overtly ideologically hostile positions, more efforts to build counter-coalitions of its own, and a bigger push to shore up China’s position in the developing world,” he said.

These pressures are also likely to impact Beijing’s close relationship with Moscow. While China has sought to appear as a neutral actor in the war in Ukraine, it has refused to condemn Russia’s invasion and instead blamed the West for the conflict – a dynamic that also may be unlikely to change.

Under Xi, Beijing has ramped up military pressure on Taiwan, sending warplanes and conducting military drills near the island. Following China’s tacit support for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, concerns have only grown over Beijing’s plans for Taiwan.

The economy

Speaking in a televised address on Sunday after announcing his new leadership team – the party’s Politburo Standing Committee – Xi said, China cannot develop in isolation from the world, and the world also needs China for its development,” But China today is more physically closed off than it’s been in decades. Xi continues to back a costly zero-Covid policy that keeps borders heavily restricted and regularly sends its cities into lockdown – dragging down China’s economic growth.

It's clear that zero-Covid is now primarily about politics, power and mass surveillance, not health. Its rigid enforcement has become a gauge of loyalty to the president. Defeating the virus has become central to the cult of Xi, for whom it is a measure of the Chinese Communist Party's superiority over the West.

The revolutionary language is no accident. If Mao had his red guards waving their little red books, Xi has his white guards, the hazmat-suited zealots waving swabs before hauling people to quarantine.

China is virtually alone in trying to eliminate the virus when almost all the world is learning to live with it, and the zero-Covid policy is causing widespread anger and resentment.

More and more people now share the sentiments of the brave protester who before the party congress strung a banner across a Beijing bridge that read, 'We want food, not PCR tests. We want freedom, not lockdowns. We want respect, not lies.' Images of it were shared widely on social media before censors struck.

In the north-western city of Xining, residents are again pleading for food and other essentials on social media. Anti-lockdown protests have been reported in the Tibetan capital, Lhasa. Zero-Covid is like a monster that has taken on a life of its own, but it is Xi's monster. He says he wants to kill off Covid for good. Instead, he is stoking anger and killing trust, aspiration and hope in the future of his country.

'When will all of this stop?' asked another. No time soon, is the answer. Shanghai is spending 1.6 billion yuan (£191 million) on a vast quarantine facility which will have more than 3,000 isolation rooms with 3,250 beds. It is one of a string of mass quarantine centres being built across the country — gulags reminiscent of the 're-education' centres built across Xinjiang to imprison Uyghurs,Tibetans  and others.

This year, the Communist Party imposed a de facto international travel ban on its people, forbidding them from going overseas for 'non-essential' reasons.

The Chinese National Immigration Administration said it would tighten the issuing of travel document like passports, and strictly limit those looking to leave.

Cai Qi, the Beijing party boss, has hinted strict zero-Covid controls could last five more years. He is another zealot promoted to the party's standing committee.

'Many people are becoming exhausted — three years of living an uncertain life, having online classes, hardly any travel, constant Covid tests, short-noticed lockdowns and crippled businesses. People desperately need to take a breath.'

It is highly time to take action to stop Xi `s vision of making China a World Leader.

Nyima Arya

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