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Why you should pay attention to the Chinese Communist Party's congress

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

We're going to begin tonight with a look at China, where the Communist Party kicked off its National Congress in Beijing earlier today. It's an important political meeting, usually held every five years, where China's ruling Communist Party announces its next leaders. And as NPR's Emily Feng tells us, it's also where the party gets to signal its goals for the future.

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EMILY FENG, BYLINE: A serenely confident Xi Jinping strode out onto the stage of Beijing's Great Hall of the People on Sunday. More than 2,300 hand-picked party representatives clapped to a carefully synchronized beat to welcome him.

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FENG: Xi is not just the leader of the Chinese state. More importantly, he's also general secretary of the Communist Party, a far more important title that he's expected to keep for another five years after this Congress. And he used his opening Congress speech on Sunday to lay out just how much he believes he helped protect the country against dangers both inside and outside China over the last decade he's already been in power.

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PRESIDENT XI JINPING: (Non-English language spoken).

FENG: He said unity is strength, and only with unity can China be victorious. The entire Congress this year is a choreographed show of just how much power Xi Jinping has consolidated within China and within the party.

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XI: (Non-English language spoken).

FENG: He said, we have cleaned out the party of all of its long-untreated ills and removed serious hidden dangers in the party, the country and the military. Many people in China hoped the country's strict zero-COVID policies would ease after the Congress. The closed borders and frequent testing and lockdowns are throttling the economy and leading to growing public frustration.

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XI: (Non-English language spoken).

FENG: Instead, Xi touted zero COVID as one of his main accomplishments, praising what he called the, quote, "all-out people's war against the virus." That means COVID controls will likely stay, though Xi tried to reassure party members China was focusing on innovation and economic self-reliance. But Wu Qiang, a political analyst in Beijing, said those aims are contradictory.

WU QIANG: (Non-English language spoken).

FENG: "Can China control, long term, all aspects of society but also remain connected to other countries and economies?" Wu concludes, it's not possible to totally close China off to the world and pursue economic growth. Equally notable is what Xi did not mention in his speech. He made no reference to China's friendship with Russia, a cratering property market or sweeping U.S. technology sanctions on China.

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XI: (Non-English language spoken).

FENG: But the final message was clear. China must be ready to withstand high winds, choppy waters and even dangerous storms in the country's journey ahead, Xi said. His prescription for the coming challenges? Uphold the Chinese Communist Party's leadership, almost certainly with him in charge.

Emily Feng, NPR News, Taipei, Taiwan. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Emily Feng is NPR's Beijing correspondent.
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