A white hat with a construction that resembles a Christmas tree. Or a hat with a triangle that sticks out diagonally, a blue pumpkin on the front tip. Or else one that resembles a two-tiered cream cake: it was all on display at the opening of the 20th Party Congress of the Communist Party of China (CPC) this Sunday in Beijing. Just like Prinsjesdag in the Netherlands, this meeting is an excellent opportunity to show the most eye-catching headgear on national television. Only: in China, the hats are part of the national costumes of the dozens of minority peoples who are standard at the Party Congress. They should underline with their colorful presence that all of China stands as one behind party leader Xi Jinping. It is one of the many ancient rituals surrounding the communist party congresses that have been organized for a hundred years now. Unfortunately, Xi’s speech this time was less interesting than the hats: it was mainly a repetition of phrases and slogans that he had used many times before. In doing so, he underlined the same stability and unity as the hat parade: someone was speaking here who is already firmly in the saddle, and who is no longer interested in fundamental changes of course. Xi therefore needed relatively few words: the full text of his speech took up 29 pages, roughly half of his 2017 text, and he finished it within two hours. In 2017, he still needed about three and a half hours. Also read No one dares to talk about Xi, in his old village The text of the speech, distributed in advance to the delegates, is pre-arranged to the last comma within the top of the party. Xi reads to him and the delegates follow along. They underline parts of it and take notes. And they clap at regular intervals. In his speech, Xi gave no hope that China’s strict corona policy would be relaxed after Congress, something that some hoped for. He spoke again of a “people’s war on all fronts to stop the spread of the virus.” There was something new to see in the room: red banners hung from the balustrades that read, among other things: “Fully support Xi Jinping’s teaching on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era”. That slogan itself is not new, but it is now hanging in the Great Hall of the People. The fact that Xi’s name is now hanging on a banner in that hall raises his status one step further. Chinese President Xi Jinping opened the 20th Party Congress on Sunday. He is expected to be re-elected as party leader later in the week for an unusual third term. Photo Thomas Peter/Reuters Hong Kong and Taiwan Xi said nothing about the western province of Xinjiang, where China allegedly engaged in torture, sexual assault, forced medical treatment and forced labor under the guise of counter-terrorism, according to a recent UN report. In contrast, he devoted relatively many words to Hong Kong and Taiwan. Taiwan, a de facto independent island state, falls under China in the eyes of the CPC and must therefore be ‘liberated’ sooner or later. But resolving the Taiwan issue “is a matter for the Chinese themselves, on which the Chinese people decide.” He stated that China would “never renounce any possible use of force” to bring Taiwan back under Chinese rule. Possible Chinese violence would target only “external forces” and the scarce “separatist forces” on the island. It is “in no way directed against Taiwanese compatriots,” Xi said. For them, China has “only the warmest feelings”. He did not mention a time when a reunion should be complete. For the ‘Taiwanese compatriots’, China has ‘only the warmest feelings’ Hong Kong has entered a new phase, Xi said, from chaos to good governance and prosperity, as “patriotic forces” rule Hong Kong and Macao. Parliament, trade unions, student organizations, media and virtually all other organizations and individuals critical of Hong Kong’s Chinese dominance have since been dismantled or imprisoned. Xi did not mention the war in Ukraine. He didn’t even name any country when he talked about China’s foreign policy. China, he said, will always “firmly oppose any form of hegemonism” and a “Cold War mentality.” China mainly blames the US for this. sexual abuse The congress is also one of the rare occasions to see China’s former leaders in public. Their presence underlines the continuity and unity of the party leadership. A number of them sit on a committee that has to supervise the transition from one party board to another. Notable absentees were former president Jiang Zemin (96) and his prime minister Zhu Rongji (93). Their health may be too weak. Jiang’s presence in particular led to a lot of publicity in 2017, partly because he studied the text of Xi’s speech with a gigantic magnifying glass and later yawned extensively with his mouth wide open. There was also a notable attendee: Zhang Gaoli. Zhang is a former member of the seven-member Standing Committee of the Politburo, the CPC’s highest organ, and tennis star Peng Shuai accused him of sexual assault in 2021 . The case sparked international outrage, especially when Peng disappeared from public view for weeks, then spoke of “a misunderstanding” and ended her career . A military orchestra rehearses in the Great Hall of the People prior to Xi’s opening address. Photo Mark Schiefelbein/AP Climate change Xi’s speech did not contain any indications that China wants to do more to reduce CO2 emissions. He said that “China will actively participate in global governance on climate change,” but he did not speak of reducing the use of coal, which remains the most important and polluting source of energy in China. On the contrary, China will “enhance the clean and efficient use of coal,” Xi said. Also read All appointments are pre-cooked at the Chinese party congress The conference will last until Saturday, October 22. The next day is the most exciting, when it is revealed who will serve on the new CPC Standing Committee. From the ranking within the Standing Committee, also called the Standing Committee, it is immediately apparent who will be appointed to which government position during the People’s Congress in March. It is almost certain that Xi will receive a third term as secretary general of the CPC. He will then most likely also be appointed president for the third time in 2023: a first in recent Chinese history. A version of this article also appeared in the newspaper of October 17, 2022