Amid trade war, Xi Jinping says China must stay the course on reform

Throughout his speech, Xi emphasized his vision of the Communist Party’s centrality in all future reform, and noted that “the centralized unified leadership of the party” had overseen the economic transformation over the last 40 years.

He closed his speech by emphasizing commitment to reform and opening up, improving the lives of Chinese people and creating “miracles that will truly impress the world.”

This year, Xi abolished the presidential term limit for his one-party-led country. The clause “Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era” was also added to the Chinese constitution, following mentions of former Chairman Mao Zedong’s and Deng’s contributions.

Meanwhile, the U.S. under President Donald Trump is stepping up pressure on China with tariffs on the bulk of the country’s exports to America. Beijing retaliated with duties of its own, and the escalating trade tensions between the world’s two largest economies have roiled global markets. Trump and Xi reached a temporary ceasefire earlier this month with the U.S., agreeing not to increase tariffs if the two countries can reach some resolution on issues such as forced technology transfer within 90 days.

Some hope the pressure from the West will push Xi to speed up restructuring of the economy, details on which were lacking in Tuesday’s speech. It’s possible that Xi wants to hold back from revealing too much ahead of further negotiations with the United States. Other announcements could also come from the upcoming Central Economic Work Conference — a key meeting of top party leaders and policymakers widely expected to begin this week.

But Xi’s nationalistic tone didn’t appear to leave him much wiggle room to balance two goals: strike a significant trade deal on the one hand, while saving face amid U.S. pressure on the other. In this way he is likely setting China on a course that runs counter to an increasingly adversarial U.S., perhaps best exemplified by an October speech from Vice President Mike Pence.

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