Under China's centralized governance, what its leader says and does carries outsize consequences at home and abroad.
Xi warned against separatism in a big speech. We timed the clapping
That was all the more the case on Tuesday, when President Xi Jinping addressed the closing session of the Chinese congress as the most powerful leader of the country in decades.
It’s Xi’s first speech since the National People’s Congress cleared the way for him to stay at the helm indefinitely, by removing term limits for the presidency.
The rubber-stamp body also wrote Xi’s political theory into the Chinese constitution, giving him the exalted status of Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping.
In his speech, Xi doubled down on his warning against perceived efforts to divide China and justified the country’s growing international ambitions.
There was a lot of clapping.
During the 36-minute speech, the audience made 19 rounds of applause, for a total duration of nearly 3 minutes.
That’s nearly a tenth of the total time.
We took notes of which parts of the speech were applauded most.
Here are some highlights from Xi's speech, ranked in ascending order of (audible) approval, with analysis by Zhang Lifan, a Beijing-based scholar of Chinese history.
Expansionism: We come in peace (20 seconds of applause)
China has built up its presence around the world, prompting criticisms of Chinese expansionism. Xi defended the country's actions abroad as altruistic.
- "The Chinese people have always been a people of justice and compassion. We have always linked our destiny and future with those of other peoples’ in the world."
- "China will never seek hegemony and expansionism. Only those who are given to threatening other people will perceive other people as a threat."
- "We will continue to promote lasting peace, broad security, common prosperity, openness and tolerance, and a beautiful world so that the shared community of a shared future for mankind will shine brighter in every corner of the world."
Zhang: “China has been expanding its economic and cultural influence abroad. The efforts are raising alarm in the West. Beijing has felt the isolation, and Xi is trying to ease tensions by emphasizing peaceful development.”
Nationalism: “Our pride is justified” (39 seconds of applause)
Xi drew a link between China today and the greater Chinese civilization across history, echoing his central idea to “rejuvenate” the Chinese nation and invoking nationalistic themes.
- "The extensive Chinese civilization is created by the Chinese people. The unfolding spirit of the Chinese nation is cultivated by the Chinese people. The development of the Chinese nation – from standing up to enriching and strengthening itself – is happening because of the Chinese people."
- "The Chinese people has cultivated, carried on and developed the great spirit of the Chinese nation, contributing to the development of China and to the civilization of mankind by injecting impetus.”
- “With such a great people, such a great nation and such great national spirits, our pride is justified.”
Zhang: “Nationalism has been a key source of the party’s public support. In the speech, Xi used flowery rhetoric to incite patriotic feeling.”
Separatism: “Not a single inch” (73 seconds of applause)
China has cracked down on separatist movements from Tibet to Hong Kong. Xi's rhetoric against separatism drew the biggest rounds of applause.
- “Any moves and tricks that aim to divide the country are doomed to fail. They will be met with the condemnation of the people and the punishment of history. The Chinese people have strong determination, full confidence and every capability to triumph over all the separatist actions.”
- "The Chinese people and the Chinese nation have a shared conviction: not a single inch of our great motherland will be and can be ceded from China."
That last sentence drew the longest round of applause, lasting 19 seconds.
Zhang: “The strong call against separatism mainly targets Taiwan – a self-ruled island currently governed by an independence-leaning party. It is also a warning for the independence supporters in Hong Kong as well as the minority-heavy regions of Xinjiang and Tibet. The party will continue with its harsh crackdown on separatism, which also serves its nationalist agenda.”