BEIJING — China sent a forceful message on Friday advancing the top leader Xi Jinping’s sweeping agenda for the country’s economic and political ascent while drawing a hard line against challenges to Communist Party rule.
China’s leaders used the opening of the annual legislative assembly, the National People’s Congress, to unveil proposals that would drastically weaken the pro-democratic opposition in Hong Kong. They set a goal of at least 6 percent economic growth for this year along with announcing a robust rise in military spending. And they released a long-term plan that promised to ease China’s dependence on foreign energy, technology and markets.
The volley of actions reflected Mr. Xi’s conviction that momentum is in China’s favor as much of the world struggles with the pandemic and its economic and political aftershocks. After initially failing to contain the coronavirus last year, China imposed strict controls that all but wiped out the virus within its borders. That success has allowed for a relatively quick economic rebound and has bolstered the Chinese Communist Party’s belief that its authoritarian system has worked while the United States’ democratic system has faltered.
In the months leading up to the legislative meeting, Mr. Xi has sought to emphasize confidence in China’s authoritarian path. “The East is rising and the West is declining,” he said at a closed-door meeting last year to discuss China’s next long-term development plan, which was released at the Congress.
Lynette H. Ong, a political scientist at the University of Toronto.
By pushing through new rules for Hong Kong, Mr. Xi is taking aim at a thorn in his party’s side: opposition to Chinese rule that erupted in monthslong demonstrations in 2019.
The proposed election overhaul would effectively lock the beleaguered democratic camp out of election contests in the city. A Politburo member who introduced the draft rules said that they would help root out people who Beijing deemed not loyal to the country.
abandon setting an annual growth target for the first time in many years. China ended up recording growth of 2.3 percent in 2020, much slower than the usual pace of 6 percent or higher in recent years, but by far the best performance of any major economy.