China unveiled a road map for cementing its rise in a post-Covid world as it opened one of its biggest political events of the year on Friday, casting its success against the coronavirus as evidence of the superiority of its top-down leadership while warning of threats at home and abroad.
The tightly scripted political pageant that is the annual meeting of China’s rubber-stamp legislature, the National People’s Congress, is largely ceremonial. But the gathering offers a glimpse into the priorities of China’s leaders and their vision for the future.
The message on Friday was one of optimism about the strength of its economy and the solidarity of its people, and of struggle against an array of challenges: a hostile global environment, demographic crises at home and resistance to its rule of Hong Kong.
announced sweeping new security laws in Hong Kong aimed at quashing months of pro-democracy protests.
On Friday, Beijing moved to choke off any vestiges of that movement by unveiling an overhaul of the territory’s election laws to ensure a system of “patriots governing Hong Kong.” The changes would make it exceedingly difficult for democracy advocates to even run for office.
According to the plan, the Basic Law, Hong Kong’s mini-Constitution, will be amended to change the process of selecting the territory’s chief executive and the legislature. A revamped Election Committee will be given the task of helping to choose the candidates for the legislature.
The changes will amount to a new electoral process with “Hong Kong characteristics,” Wang Chen, a Politburo member who specializes in legal matters, said in a speech. The process will also be more firmly than ever under Beijing’s control.
Hong Kong, a former British colony, was returned to Chinese rule in 1997 on the promise that it would be accorded a high degree of autonomy for 50 years. But “Beijing’s full grip on power in Hong Kong may happen well before 2047,” said Diana Fu, an associate professor of political science at the University of Toronto.
growth of 2.3 percent in 2020, its lowest rate in years, but its stringent measures against the coronavirus allowed it to reopen its economy while competitors like the United States and the European Union remained hobbled.
“Our people worked hard and fought adversity in close solidarity and with the unyielding spirit of the Chinese nation, thus proving themselves true heroes,” Li Keqiang, China’s premier, said in announcing the target. “This is the well of strength that enables us to rise to every challenge and overcome every difficulty.”
The emphasis on triumph in the face of difficulty reflects a recent effort by Xi Jinping, China’s top leader, to strike a balance as he seeks to steer the country through what the ruling Communist Party sees as a time of great risk and opportunity.
As countries continue to grapple with the pandemic, the party has doubled down on the message that China’s political model of strong, centralized leadership is superior to the chaos of liberal democracies.
Strengthening that message will be a major focus for Mr. Xi as he looks ahead to two important political events. In July, the party will celebrate the centenary of its founding. Then, in 2023, Mr. Xi is widely expected to take up a third presidential term, following his push in 2018 to scrap constitutional term limits.