Take all the necessary precautionary steps and be vigilant about any risks that could jeopardise China’s stability and reforms, President Xi Jinping told officials summoned to Beijing for a Communist Party study session on Monday.
In an opening address, Xi told provincial bosses, ministers and top generals that although China’s economy was generally performing well, they must not let their guard down and they should be aware of potential turbulence and disruption ahead.
“[We are] confronted with unpredictable international developments and a complicated and sensitive external environment. Our task at hand is to maintain stability as we continue our reform and development,” Xi was quoted as saying by state news agency Xinhua.
“We must maintain a high degree of vigilance. We must keep our high alert about any ‘black swan’ [or unforeseen] incident, and also take steps to prevent any ‘grey rhino’ [highly possible yet ignored threats].”
About a dozen provinces had to reschedule their annual people’s congress meetings so that their top leaders and officials had time to attend the study session.
It also came against the backdrop of the country reporting its slowest economic growth for decades and amid an ongoing trade war between China and the United States.
According to Xinhua, the session, which emphasised how China could resolve the major risks it faced, was attended by hundreds of senior officials from all provinces and autonomous regions, top ministers and heads of party organs. It is expected to last for four days.
In his speech, Xi called for all officials to pay attention to controlling the risks facing Beijing in the areas of politics, economy, ideology and technology.
Highlighting the importance of science within national security, Xi called for more Chinese innovation and technology. “[We] must strengthen strategic judgment and deployment in major innovation sectors, and speed up setting up national labs,” he said.
His call came as Beijing’s innovation drive has come under increasing scrutiny by the West in recent years, with its state-led hi-tech industrial strategy “Made in China 2025” under fire, and charges of espionage and fraud around telecoms giant Huawei Technologies.
Xi also called for better protection of China’s interests overseas. “[We] must strengthen protection of our overseas interests, and ensure the security of major overseas projects and personnel,” Xi said. “We must complete a security system for the ‘Belt and Road Initiative’.”
The speech echoed what Xi said at an event last month marking the 40th anniversary of reform and opening to the outside world, when he warned that China may encounter “unimaginable terrifying tidal waves and horrifying storms” in the years ahead.
Chen Daoyin, a Shanghai-based political scientist, said the focus of the session underlined Beijing’s challenge after events that have affected stability in the country over the past year.
“Beijing was presenting the image of a superpower during the 19th party congress and [its confidence] has fallen from its peak to a low point in the past year,” Chen said.
During the twice-a-decade party congress in 2017, Xi vowed to present a “China solution” and the “China wisdom” to the world, which was seen by many as a challenge to the existing world order and governance model laid down by the West.
But Beijing’s message changed swiftly after a trade war broke out with Washington in July, with senior officials putting more emphasis on external uncertainties.
“The party needs to rally its support and set the tone for the upcoming National People’s Congress meeting in March,” Chen said. “And maintaining stability will be its top priority.”