China will not allow “sanctimonious preaching” or bullying from foreign forces, and anyone who tries “will find themselves on a collision course with a steel wall forged by 1.4 billion people”, its president, Xi Jinping, has said on the centenary of the Chinese Communist party.
In a speech before a crowd of 70,000 in Tiananmen Square in Beijing, Xi praised the ruling party for lifting China out of poverty and humiliation, and pledged to expand China’s military and influence.
Standing at the Gate of Heavenly Peace above a portrait of Mao Zedong on Thursday, Xi said the era of China being bullied was “gone forever”.
“We will not accept sanctimonious preaching from those who feel they have the right to lecture us,” he said. “We have never bullied, oppressed, or subjugated the people of any other country, and we never will.”
“By the same token we will never allow anyone to bully, oppress, or subjugate [China]. Anyone who tries will find them on a collision course with a steel wall forged by 1.4 billion people.”
His fiery statements were met with rapturous applause by the tens of thousands of Chinese Communist party (CCP) members in attendance.
The CCP wields absolute rule over 1.4 billion people and one of the world’s largest economies. But China is also an increasingly isolated member of the international community due to its human rights abuses and actions towards regional neighbours such as Taiwan, India and others who dispute China’s claims in the South China Sea. Its relations with countries like the US, Canada, and Australia – with which it is locked in bitter trade disputes – are at their lowest points in decades.
In his speech, Xi said a strong country must have a strong military to guarantee the security of the nation, and the People’s Liberation Army had made “indelible achievements”. It was a “strong pillar” for safeguarding the country and preserving national dignity, sovereignty and development interests, not just in China but in the region “and beyond”, he said.
The party must maintain “absolute leadership” over the military, which must be grown and elevated “to world-class standards”, he said.
There is increasing concern and preparation for the eventuation of military confrontation over Taiwan, likely involving the US which supplies arms to the island’s government.
In his speech Xi reiterated longstanding pledges to “restore” Taiwan. The CCP has never ruled over Taiwan but considers it to be a breakaway province of China that must be unified, by force if necessary. Xi said this remained an “unshakeable commitment”.
“No one should underestimate the resolve, the will and ability of the Chinese people to define their national sovereignty and territorial integrity,” he said.
Given recent context, Xi’s comments on Taiwan weren’t unexpected, said Dr Mark Harrison, senior lecturer in Chinese Studies at the University of Tasmania, but they did show how “uncompromising” Beijing was.
“Xi restated the existing formulations for Taiwan of Beijing’s one-China principle and the 1992 Consensus but his tone was notably belligerent, including his line ‘to utterly defeat any attempt towards Taiwan independence’,” he said.
Taiwan’s China policy-making Mainland Affairs Council said Taiwan’s people have rejected the one-China principle, and Beijing should abandon its military intimidation and talk with Taipei on an equal footing.
“Our government’s determination to firmly defend the nation’s sovereignty and Taiwan’s democracy and freedom and to maintain peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait remains unchanged.”
The Council said while the CCP had achieved “certain economic development”, it remained a dictatorship that trampled on people’s freedoms, and should embrace democracy instead.
“Its historical decision-making errors and persistent harmful actions have caused serious threats to regional security,” it added.
Xi’s speech charted the history of the CCP from its origins in Shanghai in 1921, to its place today, declaring it had achieved its first centenary goal of building a “moderately prosperous society in all respects”, and claiming to have eradicated poverty.
“We eliminated the exploitative feudal system that had persisted in China for thousands of years and established socialism,” he said. “The Chinese people are not only good at destroying an old world, but also good at building a new world. Only socialism can save China, and only socialism with Chinese characteristics can develop China.”
Xi said without the party there would be no new China, and it had “profoundly transformed the advancement of the Chinese nation”.
“It is the foundation and lifeblood of the party and the country, and the crux upon which the interests and wellbeing of all Chinese people depend.”
Xi has cemented his eight-year rule through a personality cult, ending term limits and declining to anoint a successor. He has purged rivals and crushed dissent – from Uyghur Muslims and online critics to pro-democracy protests on Hong Kong’s streets.
The centenary celebrations have been a highly orchestrated affair, with little prior announcement of what was on the cards. Thursday’s event began with dozens of military helicopters and jets, including the J-20 stealth fighters, flying in formation through Beijing’s skies, trailing flags and coloured smoke over Tiananmen Square, where 56 cannon – representing the 56 ethnic groups of China – were fired 100 times.
Last week, surveillance and security measures increased and Reuters reported police officers door-knocking to check household registrations, and tightened censorship directives at Bytedance and Baidu.
Thursday also marks the 24th anniversary of the handover of former British colony Hong Kong to China, a date once met with mass demonstrations against Beijing.
Thousands of police were deployed in an effort to prevent a repeat of protests on Thursday, which also marked one year and one day since the implementation of the national security law, a draconian legal tool which authorities have been accused of wielding to crush dissent and opposition.
“While safeguarding national security, residents continue to enjoy freedom of speech, freedom of press, freedom of assembly and demonstration and others according to the law,” deputy chief executive John Lee said in a speech.
Hong Kong police later cordoned off Victoria Park citing public order laws, and evicted all occupants including children playing sport. “The most effective police measure is to prevent things that could happen rather than to deal with it after it happens,” said a police spokesman.
Agence France-Presse and Reuters contributed to this report