March 1, 2024

(Bloomberg) — Chinese President Xi Jinping used a speech remembering Mao Zedong to push a framework the current leader rolled out recently to counter the West’s capitalist model.

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The “central task” of the nation and its ruling Communist Party is “to build China into a stronger country and rejuvenate the Chinese nation on all fronts by pursuing Chinese modernization,” Xi said in Beijing on Tuesday, as he marked 130 years since Mao’s birth.

Xi described “Chinese modernization” — a vague concept he has been promoting since 2021 — as “a cause passed down from veteran revolutionaries including Mao Zedong” that is now “the solemn historical responsibility of today’s Chinese Communists.”

The Chinese leader has promoted that idea at events including last year’s leadership congress, describing it as an alternative to systems used by the US and its allies. The flagship People’s Daily has described Chinese modernization as containing unique features, including benefiting a large population, achieving “common prosperity” and developing peacefully.

By linking his own project to Mao’s legacy, Xi creates room for state media to tout him as an extension of the man remembered as the founder of a new China. That version of events largely glosses over Mao’s role in the famine-inducing Great Leap Forward of the 1950s and the chaotic Cultural Revolution of the 1960s and 70s.

Xi, whose government eliminated term limits in 2018, has spent his first decade-plus in office consolidating power to levels unseen since Mao. That campaign has left some investors worried his ambitions lack checks and balances, and his push to narrow the wealth gap may lead to sweeping income redistribution.

Read: New Title for Xi Stokes Concern of a Mao-Style Personality Cult

Some officials have in recent years called Xi lingxiu, or “leader,” a revered title of praise previously reserved for Mao. Xi has also moved to pack key positions with supporters, potentially making it harder for him to hear dissenting policy voices.

China’s propaganda machine has also stepped up efforts to draw parallels between Mao and Xi. A Communist Party research institute said in an article this month that Mao should be remembered for his “high achievements and strong morals.”

Then it added: “It is blessing for the party and the state, the people and the Chinese nation to have General Secretary Xi Jinping, another core of the party, leader of the people and commander-in-chief of the army who enjoys popular support.”

In his Tuesday speech, Xi also repeated the party’s lines on Taiwan, comments that come before the island that Beijing claims as its own chooses a new president next month.

“The motherland must and is bound to be reunified,” he said. China must “deepen cross-strait integration and development in all areas, and promote the peaceful development of cross-Strait relations.”

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