China’s Xi Vows to Defend Maritime Interests, Sovereignty in ’17

  • New Year’s speech focuses on reforms to help more people
  • Nation will adhere to peaceful development in new year: Xi

Chinese President Xi Jinping said the country will deepen reforms as he vowed to safeguard its sovereignty and maritime interests in 2017, a year that will present fresh international and domestic challenges for the leaders in Beijing.

In a New Year’s speech published Saturday by Xinhua, Xi said the outcome of reforms should benefit more people and he vowed to address difficulties in areas such as employment, education, health care and housing. He also said the country adheres to peaceful development and resolutely safeguards its sovereignty and maritime interests.

“Chinese people will not agree to whoever that wants to make trouble on this,” Xi said in the annual address, referring to the country’s sovereignty rights and maritime interests. China’s claims to territory in the South China Sea have been contested by other nations.

China’s leaders have pledged in recent weeks to rein in domestic risks from political reshuffles and high debt, both of which threaten stability in the world’s second-biggest economy. They also face the prospect of rockier ties with the U.S. after the inauguration of Donald Trump, who has signaled a tougher line on trade and Taiwan.

‘More Uncertain’

“Next year will be more uncertain and possibly more unstable than past years,” said Ja Ian Chong, a political science professor at the National University of Singapore. “Greater U.S. hawkishness” on trade and currency issues “may create grounds for more instability,” he said.

Trump in his campaign for president pledged to brand China as a currency manipulator and impose a 45 percent tariff on Chinese imports. His protocol-breaking phone call with Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen and his attacks on China on Twitter have added to tensions between the nations.

China’s economy performed well in 2016. Xi has already said he’s certain that his government will reach its target of 6.5 percent to 7 percent economic growth. Economists surveyed by Bloomberg project a 6.7 percent expansion.

Optimism over the growth outlook has increased as well, buoyed by strong state-led investment, exports cushioned by a weaker yuan and accelerating retail sales. Forecasts for full-year 2017 growth have climbed to 6.4 percent from 6.3 percent since September, a Bloomberg survey showed Friday.

China has also scored a series of diplomatic victories. Xi is expected to accelerate talks on the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, which China has championed in recent years, as the U.S.-led Trans-Pacific Partnership founders.

Beijing also has re-established diplomatic ties with the West African nations of Sao Tome and Principe along with Gambia that cut relations with Taiwan, adding more pressure to the self-ruled island as Beijing seeks to quell any push for formal independence.

Xi used his first New Year’s speech after taking power in November 2012 to pledge promotion of national defense and sustainable development. In his 2016 speech, Xi stressed the need for stable growth and said that China should wield greater influence around the world.

— With assistance by Dong Lyu, Keith Zhai, Shuping Niu, and Douglas Huang

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