BEIJING, March 10 (Reuters) – Xi Jinping was sworn in for a third term as China’s president on Friday during a parliamentary session tightening his grip on the world’s second-largest economy as it emerges from the Covid fallout and diplomatic challenges. load.
Nearly 3,000 members of China’s rubber-stamp parliament, the National People’s Congress (NPC), voted unanimously for the 69-year-old Xi in the Great Hall of the People, with no other candidate.
Xi has steered China down a more authoritarian path since taking control a decade ago, and he is extending his term for another five years, amid increasingly hostile relations with the United States and its allies over Taiwan, Russia, and Beijing’s support for trade and human rights.
Domestically, China faces a challenging recovery from Xi’s zero-COVID policy, weak confidence among consumers and businesses, and weak demand for Chinese exports.
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The economy grew just 3% last year, its worst performance in decades. The government has set a growth target of just 5% this year during the parliamentary session.
“In his third term, Xi should focus on economic revival,” said Willie Lam, a senior fellow at the Jamestown Foundation, a US think tank.
“But if he continues to do what he’s been doing — tight party and state control over the private sector and confrontation with the West, his chances of success are not encouraging.”
Russian President Vladimir Putin was among the first foreign leaders to congratulate Xi on his third term. The two sealed a “no limits” partnership between China and Russia in February last year, days before Russia launched its invasion of Ukraine.
Xi set the stage for another term in 2018 when he abolished presidential term limits and became China’s most powerful leader since Mao Zedong, who founded the People’s Republic.
While the presidency is largely ceremonial, Xi’s key tenure was extended last October, when he was reconfirmed as general secretary of the Communist Party’s Central Committee for another five years.
In Washington, US President Joe Biden focused on managing the strategic rivalry with China, White House spokesman John Kirby said. “Mr Xi’s third term is certainly not a surprise to anyone here. It was very much expected,” Kirby said.
A new leadership slate
During Friday’s vote, Xi held talks with Premier Li Keqiang, who is to be confirmed Saturday for China’s second-highest post, a former Shanghai party chief and Xi ally in charge of the economy.
Other Xi-approved officials, including deputy prime ministers, a central bank governor and several ministers and department heads, will be elected or appointed to government posts later this week.
The first annual parliamentary session since China’s three-year lifting of Covid restrictions ends on Monday, when Xi will deliver a speech, followed by Li’s media question-and-answer session.
During Friday’s session, Xi and dozens of other top leaders on stage did not wear masks, but everyone in the auditorium did.
China ended its zero-covid policy in December after highly unusual nationwide protests against restrictions that have crippled daily life and the economy.
The virus, which emerged in China in late 2019, has spread rapidly, affecting most of its 1.4 billion people, but officials have not released the full number of related deaths.
Parliament on Friday elected Zhao Lejie (66) as Speaker and Han Zheng (68) as Vice Speaker. Both were members of Xi’s previous group of party leaders in the Politburo Standing Committee.
Reporting by Yu Lun Tian, additional reporting by Doina Xiaku in Washington; Editing by Lincoln Feist, Tony Munro, Robert Birzel and Raisa Kasolowski
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