Folk outfits and acquired public: Sunday’s opening of the 20th Congress of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) looked like a meeting for President Xi Jinping, on his way to a 3rd term that would make him the most powerful leader of China since Mao Tse-tung.
In the imposing People’s Palace, which dominates Tiananmen Square in Beijing, some 2,300 delegates are gathered in a red and gold decor, the characteristic colors of the CPC.
Banners unfurl in praise of the “grand, glorious and just Chinese Communist Party”.
After a minute of silence in tribute to the heroes of the party, a military band sings the national anthem.
Under the giant emblem of the hammer and sickle, the strongman of Beijing reviews his action over the past five years and his vision if he is reappointed at the head of the most populous nation in the world.
Duration of the intervention: more than an hour and a half. Much more concise than during his previous speech in 2017 which lasted three and a half hours.
Participants diligently scribble notes. The swarm of monochrome costumes is punctuated by a few bursts of color from a military uniform or the traditional dress of one of the minority ethnic groups.
Other more unusual delegates include astronaut Wang Yaping, China’s first female spacewalker, and Olympic speed skating champion Wu Dajing, dressed in her national tracksuit.
– “Hard core” –
In accordance with strict health protocols, all delegates are masked, with the exception of the front row made up of high personalities.
Among them was Hu Jintao, Xi’s predecessor, gray-haired and frail-looking. But not Jiang Zemin, 96, who took the reins of the country just after the crackdown on the Tiananmen Square protests in 1989.
Also present, Zhang Gaoli, former deputy prime minister accused by tennis star Peng Shuai of having “forced” her to have sex, before retracting after strong media coverage of the case abroad.
The congress is meant to be a demonstration of the unity and strength of the party, with carefully selected delegates from all provinces of China.
It is also a show of personal loyalty to Mr. Xi, 69.
“As long as he (works) for the happiness of the people, and continues to improve our quality of life, we will all support him,” said a delegate from Guangxi (south), He Xiangyin, to AFP.
“He is the hard core,” she insists, in tune with the official rhetoric.
Xi Jinping, who should obtain a third term as general secretary of the CCP, would thus undermine the rules of succession that have prevailed tacitly since the 1990s.
– “So happy” –
Taking control of Hong Kong, managing the Covid-19 epidemic, fighting corruption… Xi Jinping’s complacency provokes thunderous applause.
His comments on Taiwan are given a standing ovation: “The reunification (of the island) with the motherland must and will be achieved”.
In his speech, Xi Jinping did not mention Xinjiang, where Western countries accuse Beijing of serious human rights abuses against Muslim minorities, especially Uyghurs.
“In Xinjiang, we have such a happy life thanks to the great (Communist) party that leads us,” Rehema Awuqi, a Uighur who represents her region at the congress, told AFP.
As the event approached, the Chinese capital took on the appearance of an impregnable fortress.
Police on duty and an army of volunteers criss-cross the main intersections of Beijing. Since Thursday, security has been tightened after the brief – and highly unusual – appearance of banners hostile to Xi Jinping.
Stretched on a bridge in the capital, these white banners with red characters call on citizens to go on strike and drive out “the traitor dictator Xi Jinping”. No information has been communicated on the fate of its author(s).
On the sidewalks of Beijing, flower arrangements have appeared, where slogans extolling the virtues of the party and calling for a “warm welcome to the congress” abound.
The conclave, which takes place for the most part behind closed doors, strictly obeys the “zero Covid” policy.
Journalists and all participants have been locked up since Friday in a health bubble, with compulsory mask wearing and daily PCR tests.