China’s Xi, not premier, delivers National Day speech in break with convention

BEIJING (Reuters) – At a dinner reception before the 74th anniversary of the founding of modern China on Thursday, Chinese President Xi Jinping urged the nation to “work together in unity” in a speech more usually delivered by the premier.

Since assuming the office of president in March 2013, Xi has previously delivered a speech twice at the annual reception, usually held on the eve of National Day on Oct. 1. In other years, the speech was given by his premier.

The first time Xi delivered it was in 2014 during a reception with over 3,000 guests, far more than the 1,200 normal at that time. In 2019, Xi again delivered a speech at the reception, which that year marked the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China.

The third time was on Thursday, three days before the 74th anniversary.

“Our future is bright, but the road ahead will not be smooth,” Xi told his roughly 800 guests, some of whom were foreign diplomats, at the Great Hall of the People in the heart of Beijing.

At the start of Xi’s precedent-breaking third term as president in 2023, China’s domestic political landscape has shifted, such as with the unexplained disappearances of two cabinet ministers and top military commanders.

Such change in the highest tiers of China’s government has stirred talk among diplomats and scholars about political purges, with the growing unpredictability potentially clouding expectations for policymaking and hampering engagement with foreign governments.

The latest official to have vanished inexplicably from the public eye was Defence Minister Li Shangfu. He was last seen in Beijing on Aug. 29 giving a key-note speech at a security forum with African nations.

It is unclear who China’s face of the military will be when Beijing holds its largest defence diplomacy outreach event, the Xiangshan Forum, on Oct. 29-31.

At Thursday’s reception, Xi told his guests that China must continue to climb over “obstacles” as his current premier, Li Qiang, listened intently at his banquet table, according to footage aired by China’s national broadcaster.

“Our strength comes from unity and confidence is more valuable than gold,” Xi said.

(Reporting by Ryan Woo; Editing by Hugh Lawson)