Beijing: President Xi Jinping on Wednesday assured jittery neighbours that China is ready to resolve its disputes through dialogue but not at the expense of Beijing's strategic interests, as he opened a key meeting of the ruling Communist party elite that will shore up his grip on power with a second term and even an unprecedented third innings at the helm.
Xi, the general secretary of the CPC, also vowed to make the People's Liberation Army a world class military during his over a three-and-a half hour speech at the once-in-a-five-year Congress which is set to confirm his second term and elect new leaders to work with him.
The 64-year-old spoke mostly of rebuilding of the ruling Communist Party of China (CPC) keeping its socialist structure intact.
At the opening session of CPC's 19th Congress at the Great Hall of the People, the party put up a united show with most of the top retired leaders including former presidents Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao besides former premiers Wen Jiabao and several other erstwhile leaders sharing the dais with Xi on the front row.
The week-long meeting will also amend the party's Constitution.
Xi spoke at length of strengthening the military, need for continuation of his massive anti-corruption drive and bringing a "new era of socialism" and Chinese rejuvenation.
"China will never pursue development at the expense of others interests, nor will China ever give up its legitimate rights and interests. No one should expect China to swallow anything that undermines its interests," he said amid thumping applause from over 2,300 delegates who attended the meeting telecast live.
About the neighbours, Xi said China would "deepen relations with its neighbours in accordance with the principles of amity, sincerity, mutual benefit and inclusiveness and the policy of forging friendship and partnership".
"We should commit to settling disputes through dialogue and resolving differences through discussion, coordinate responses to traditional and non-traditional threats and oppose terrorism in all its forms," Xi said.
China and India had been engaged in a standoff recently in the Doka-La area in Sikkim. China was engaged in a number of maritime disputes with the neighbours in the South and East China seas.
Xi spoke at length about his plans to make the 2.3 million strong PLA, the world's largest military, into a world class force.
By the year 2020, mechanisation will be basically achieved, with IT application coming a long way and strategic capabilities seeing a big improvement, he said.
The modernisation of the national defence and armed forces should be basically completed by 2035, by which the "armed forces have been fully transformed into world-class military forces," he said.
The Chinese military, which underwent massive reform drive since Xi took over power in 2012, has over $141 billion annual budget next only to US military.
"A military is built to fight. Our military must regard combat capability as the criterion to meet in all its work and focus on how to win when it is called on," he said, adding that all steps would be taken to ensure military preparedness to implement strategic doctrines.
The CPC will build a powerful and modernised army, navy, air force, rocket (missile) force, and strategic support force, develop strong and efficient joint operations commanding institutions for theatre commands, and create a modern combat system with distinctive Chinese characteristics, he said.
Unlike the militaries elsewhere, the Chinese military functions directly under the leadership of the party. Xi is the chairman of the powerful Central Military Commission (CMC), the overall high command of the PLA.
Xi also devoted his address titled "secure decisive victory in building moderately prosperous society in all its respects and strive for the great success of socialism with Chinese characteristics for new era" mostly to strengthening the CPC, which has ruled the country since 1949.
"We must unwaveringly uphold and improve party leadership and make the party still stronger," he said.
Xi, who in the past warned the party of going the way the Soviet Communist Party collapsed in 1991, said the defining feature of the party is socialism with Chinese characteristics.
"We must keep on strengthening the party's ability to lead politically, to guide through theory, to organise the people, and to inspire society, thus ensuring that the party's great vitality and strong ability are forever maintained," he said.
Founded in 1921, the CPC has about 89-million members with more than 4.5 million grassroots organisations.
The party is striving to strengthen its long-term governance capacity amid "complex" governance environment, Xi said, warning of the dangers of a lack of drive, incompetence, disengagement from the people, inaction, and corruption.
The primary task of a political party building is to ensure that the whole party obeys the Central Committee and upholds its authority and centralised, unified leadership, Xi said.
Last year, Xi was endorsed as the core leader, a status bestowed on party founder Mao Zedong and his successor Deng Xiaoping.
By heading the party, presidency and the military, Xi has emerged as the most powerful leader in the country. His ideological teachings were expected to be made part of the amended CPC constitution during the Congress to ensure his legacy. Only the names of Mao and Deng were part of the CPC Constitution.
Observers say with consolidation of power and having bulldozed the remnants of opposition in the party in his massive anti-corruption drive, Xi, 64 may be declared as chairman of the party and may even have an unprecedented, third term after 2022. All Chinese leaders retire at the age of 68.
In his speech Xi also pledged to make a sweeping victory in its fight against corruption to escape the historical cycle of rise and fall.
Calling corruption "the greatest threat" the party faces, Xi said the situation in the fight against corruption remains "grave and complex."
The CPC will prevent any interest groups from arising within the party, Xi said.
Wherever offenders may flee, they shall be brought back and brought to justice, he added.
Since he took over power more than 280 centrally-administered officials were investigated and over 1.4 million official received punishments, state-run Xinhua news agency reported.
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Updated Date: Oct 18, 2017 17:25:54 IST