China's Xi Jinping solidifies total grip on power at Communist Party conference

ITV News China Correspondent Debi Edward reports on Xi Jinping extending his grip on power

The Xi Show is taking place in Beijing this week. If there was any doubt about just how firm a grip on power the Chinese President has, it will be established in the next ten days.

The Two Sessions take place every March when thousands of delegates representing the National People’s Congress (NPC) and the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) gather in the Chinese capital.

At this year’s assembly, the pre-eminence of Xi Jinping will be displayed in the confirmation of a cabinet stacked with his loyalists, and with the rubber-stamping of his third five-year term in office.

Xi continues to command all three roles of Head of State, Chairman of the Communist Party and Commander in Chief, having changed the country’s constitution to scrap presidential term limits, and ensure he can rule supreme for life.

The meeting of the Chinese Communist Party is in full swing. Credit: AP

There was a time when the setting of the Chinese defence budget and growth target wouldn’t matter much to the rest of the world. In the decade that Xi Jinping has been in charge, that has changed.

The Chinese economy plays an intrinsic role in the global market, we saw evidence of that in how the country’s rolling lockdowns choked off international supply chains.

Disruption at Apple's Foxconn factory in Central China led to delayed shipments of the iPhone 14 for the Christmas market.

Last year the country posted its slowest growth in 40 years, 3% fell short of the 5.5% target.

This year’s growth target has been set at a modest 5%, the government wary of forecasting too strong an economic rebound and wanting to make sure it has a target it won’t miss.

The top of the Chinese government is now packed with people loyal to Xi Jinping. Credit: AP

But there are already some encouraging signs, manufacturing output last month grew at its fastest rate in a decade.

Amid talk of decoupling, there is still a dependence on the Chinese markets that many are hoping for to secure a solid post-Covid recovery.

The country has also become a sparring superpower, locked in an increasingly vitriolic trade war and ideological conflict with the United States.

The two nations are locking horns over Taiwan and increased military activity around the island has led senior American defence officials, and, indeed, the Taiwanese Foreign Minister to warn that conflict, accidental or otherwise could break out at any time.

Beijing’s partnership with Moscow has also raised tensions, with speculation that the Communist Party is weighing up giving Russia military aid.

During the three years China remained in Covid isolation, its relationship with the rest of the world and its reputational standing were altered.

Not least because the first cluster of coronavirus cases emerged in the country and questions remain unanswered with regard to how and why the pandemic started.

Human rights abuses in Xinjiang are being talked about in the UK Parliament, in the EU, and bills have been passed on the matter in Washington.

Similarly, the plight of Hong Kong since the introduction of a democracy-crippling National Security Law has been heavily criticised.

Gone it seems are the days when these issues, and abuses, would go unspoken during meetings with Chinese government officials.

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One result of that appears to be a Communist Party setting a protectionist agenda. Facing tech security concerns and sanctions from the West, the president has spoken of increased self-reliance in science and technology encouraging those working in the field to promote "new strengths in the face of fierce international competition."

In manufacturing and food supply, steps are also being taken to reduce the country’s dependency on others and offset its vulnerability to market variations and potential sanctions.

Xi’s fingerprints will be on every policy implemented or revised at this week’s political gathering and to further extend his power, several key state council institutions are expected to be placed under Party control.

Speaking to a group of delegates on Monday, Xi took the opportunity to extend his good wishes to the women in the room ahead of International Women’s Day on Wednesday.

Nobody in this room would dare to point out that for the first time in 25 years there’s not a single woman in the President's politburo.

Inequality can be added to the list of issues that will this week pass unopposed.