Xi Jinping has officially started his precedent-breaking third term in office as Chinese president, effectively cementing his status as the country’s most powerful leader since Mao Zedong.
He received on Friday a unanimous endorsement from the country’s largely rubber-stamp parliament, the National People’s Congress, where its almost 3,000 members rose and applauded as the results were announced in the Great Hall of the People in Beijing. The 69-year-old’s ascension to power was almost a certainty, after he was re-elected the general secretary of the ruling Communist Party during the all-important 20th party congress last year.
But Xi, who is also re-appointed chairman of the Central Military Commission, faces rising challenges during his next five-year term. Economic growth slowed to just 3% last year, as his strict Covid control policies took a heavy toll on a wide range of businesses and activities. Although the restrictions have now been lifted, China’s rivalry with the U.S. has intensified, with the Biden administration seeking to curb tech exports to undercut the progress of Beijing’s technological and military advances.
Xi, for his part, issued a rare direct criticism of the U.S. In a speech to delegates this week, he blamed Washington for leading western countries in implementing an “all-round containment, encirclement and suppression against us.” Chinese leaders have called for the entire nation to innovate and achieve self-reliance in technology, with Xi emphasizing on Wednesday the urgency to speed up high-tech independence and strengthen supply-chain resilience during a gathering of military delegates.
To that end, a sweeping revamp of government agencies is also underway. Beijing released plans this week that include restructuring the Ministry of Science and Technology to “better allocate resources to overcome challenges in key and core technologies,”according to the official Xinhua News Agency.
The government is also creating an enlarged financial regulator directly under the State Council. Tasked with overseeing financial holding companies and protecting consumers, the proposed administration will absorb the China Banking and Insurance Regulatory Commission and some functions from the central bank, the People’s Bank of China.
Although Xi expressed support for private enterprises and entrepreneurs, he also indicated that regulatory efforts to rein in the private sector are unlikely to be relaxed in the near term. He reminded business leaders of their responsibilities to adhere to the law and support “common prosperity,” a government campaign aimed at driving down inequality by spreading wealth.