BEIJING — Chinese leader Xi Jinping on Sunday called for faster military development and announced no changes to policies that have strained relations with Washington and tightened the ruling Communist Party’s control over society and the economy.

China’s most influential figure in decades spoke at the opening of a party congress that has been closely watched by Chinese businesses, governments and the public for signs of his economic and political leadership . It comes amid a painful economic crisis and tensions with Washington and its Asian neighbors over trade, technology and security.

The congress will install leaders for the next five years. Xi, 69, is expected to break with tradition and grant himself a third five-year term as party general secretary, fulfilling his vision to reassert his dominance in the economy, society and culture after four decades of liberalization. market type.

Xi called for accelerating military and technological development to propel the “rejuvenation of the Chinese nation” in an hour and 45-minute televised address to some 2,000 delegates in the cavernous Great Hall of the People.

The party’s military wing, the People’s Liberation Army, must ‘safeguard China’s dignity and fundamental interests’, Xi said, referring to a list of territorial claims and other issues Beijing says ready to go to war. The PLA is the second largest military in the world after the United States and is trying to expand its reach by developing ballistic missiles.

“We will work faster to modernize military theory, personnel and weapons,” Xi said in the speech, which was punctuated by short bursts of applause from masked delegates. “We will strengthen the strategic capabilities of the army.”

Xi cited his government’s tough “zero COVID” strategy, which shut down major cities and disrupted travel and business, as a success. He gave no indication of a possible change despite public frustration at its rising cost.

The congress will appoint a standing committee of the party, the inner circle of power. Economic officials are not expected to be named until China’s ceremonial legislature convenes next year. But the party’s lineup, to be revealed after the congress ends on Saturday, will indicate who is likely to succeed Premier Li Keqiang as top economic official and take on other posts.

Xi is widely expected to promote allies who share his ambition for state-led development. Analysts are investigating whether a recession that has seen economic growth fall below half of the official annual target of 5.5% could force him to compromise and promote proponents of market-style reform. and entrepreneurs who generate wealth and jobs.

Xi on Sunday gave no indication whether he would pursue a third term as leader or when he might step down.

During its decade in power, Xi’s government has pursued an increasingly assertive foreign policy while tightening domestic control over information and dissent.

Beijing is squabbling with the governments of Japan, India and Southeast Asia over conflicting claims to the South China and East China Seas and part of the Himalayas. The United States, Japan, Australia and India formed a strategic group dubbed the Quad in response.

The party has increased the dominance of state-owned industry and invested money in strategic initiatives to support Chinese creators of renewable energy, electric cars, computer chips, aerospace and other technologies.

His tactics sparked complaints that Beijing is improperly protecting and subsidizing its fledgling creators and led then-President Donald Trump to raise tariffs on Chinese imports in 2019, sparking a trade war that rocked the EU. Mondial economy.

Trump’s successor, Joe Biden, kept those sanctions in place and this month increased restrictions on Chinese access to American chip technology.

The party has tightened control over private sector leaders, including e-commerce giant Alibaba Group, by launching anti-monopoly, data security and other crackdowns. Under political pressure, they divert billions of dollars to chip development and other party initiatives. The prices of their shares in overseas markets have plunged due to uncertainty about their future.

The party has stepped up media and internet censorship, increased public surveillance and tightened privacy controls through its “social credit” initiative that tracks individuals and punishes offenses ranging from fraud to littering.

Last week, banners criticizing Xi and “zero COVID” were hung from a pedestrian bridge over a major Beijing thoroughfare in a rare protest. Photos from the event have been removed from social media, and popular messaging service WeChat has shut down accounts that forwarded them.

On Sunday, Xi said the party would step up technological development and “ensure the safety” of its food sources and industrial supply chains.

Xi said the party would build “self-reliance and strength” in technology by improving China’s education system and attracting foreign experts. He said Beijing would launch “major national projects” with “long-term significance”, but gave no details.

The president appeared to be “double down” on technological autonomy and “zero COVID” at a time when other countries are easing travel restrictions and relying on smoother supply chains, said Willy Lam, expert in politics at the Chinese University of Hong Kong.

Xi was joined on stage by party leaders, including his predecessor as general secretary Hu Jintao, former premier Wen Jiabao and Song Ping, a 105-year-old party veteran who sponsored Xi’s early career. Xi. There was no sign of former President Jiang Zemin, 96, who served as party leader until 2002.

The presence of former leaders shows that Xi faces no serious opposition in the party’s upper ranks, Lam said.

“Xi makes it very clear that he intends to hold on to power for as long as his health allows,” he said.

Xi made no mention of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, which Beijing refuses to criticize. Ahead of the February attack, Xi issued a joint statement with Russian President Vladimir Putin saying they had a “boundless” friendship.

Xi defended a crackdown aimed at crushing a pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong, saying the party had helped the former British colony “to enter a new stage in which it has restored order and is ready to prosper”.

Xi’s government is also facing criticism over complaints of mass detentions and other abuses against mainly Muslim ethnic minority groups and the imprisonment of government critics.

Amnesty International warned on Sunday that extending Xi’s term would be a “human rights disaster”. In addition to conditions in China, he pointed to Beijing’s efforts to “redefine the very meaning of human rights” at the United Nations.

Xi’s government poses a “threat to rights not just at home, but around the world,” the group’s deputy regional director Hana Young said in a statement.

Xi said Beijing refused to back down from a possible use of force against Taiwan, the self-governing island democracy the Communist Party claims as part of its territory. The two parts separated in 1949 after a civil war.

Beijing has stepped up its efforts to intimidate the Taiwanese by flying fighter jets and bombers near the island. That campaign intensified after Speaker Nancy Pelosi of the House of Representatives in August became the highest-ranking U.S. official to visit Taiwan in a quarter-century.

The unification of the two sides “will be achieved”, Xi said.

Beijing must prevent “interference by outside forces”, he said, a reference to foreign politicians who the ruling party says are encouraging Taiwan to make its de facto independence permanent, a step the mainland says , would lead to war.

“We will continue to strive for peaceful reunification,” Xi said. “But we will never promise to renounce the use of force. And we reserve the right to take all necessary measures.

The ruling party elite agreed in the 1990s to limit the secretary general to two five-year terms in a bid to prevent a repeat of the power struggles of previous decades. This leader also becomes chairman of the commission that controls the military wing of the party, the People’s Liberation Army, and holds the ceremonial title of national president.

Xi made his intentions clear in 2018 when he removed a two-term limit on the presidency from the Chinese constitution. Officials said this allowed Xi to stay if necessary to carry out reforms.

The party is expected to amend its charter this week to elevate Xi’s status as leader after adding his personal ideology, Xi Jinping Thought, in a 2017 amendment. The vague ideology emphasizes the revival of the party’s leadership role in a return to what Xi sees as its heyday after the 1949 revolution.

Congress spokesman Sun Yeli said on Saturday the changes would “meet new requirements to advance the party’s development” but gave no details.