BEIJING -- President Xi Jinping called on the Chinese people to build a modern socialist country, vowed to "crush" external forces who try to meddle in the country's internal affairs, and smash any push for independence on Taiwan.
Speaking at a ceremony in Tiananmen Square to mark the 100th anniversary of the Chinese Communist Party, Xi hailed the system of Marxism with Chinese characteristics for lifting the country to become the world's second largest economy.
Dressed in a gray Mao suit, Xi was joined by the CCP top leadership, government officials and former leaders including Hu Jintao and Wen Jiabao. Former president Jiang Zemin was not to be seen. The event was broadcast live on national television and social media.
Xi's speech was preceded by a flyovers of helicopters and advanced warplanes, including J-20 stealth jets. Students pledged loyalty to the party.
Xi's speech reflects increased confidence in the CCP's political legitimacy, as few signs emerge that the People's Republic of China might collapse like the Soviet Union in 1991.
In recent weeks, state media has defended the CCP's track record, pointing to China's economic growth and efficient COVID-19 control, juxtaposing it against the West.
"The CCP has changed China's future and destiny, as well as the trend and structure of world's development," Xi, who leads the party as secretary-general, said in front of 70,000 people. "I solemnly declare that through the continuous struggle of the party and our people, we have achieved the first 100th year goal of building a moderately prosperous society by eliminating absolute poverty."
In some Western countries, the ruling parties have been reduced to serving only a few, becoming political organizations "of the 1 percent, by the 1 percent, for the 1 percent," Xinhua wrote on Wednesday. "In contrast, the CCP has remained committed to representing the fundamental will of the majority of the people."
On Thursday, in a message apparently directed against the U.S. and its allies, Xi said China opposes hegemonism and power politics.
Vowing to rally the nation against any attempt to separate and antagonize the foundations of the CCP, Xi envisaged China's rise based on mutual cooperation and non-confrontational approaches.
"The Chinese people have never bullied, oppressed or enslaved the people of other countries," he said in the speech that lasted nearly an hour.
"It has never done so in the past, does not do so now and will never do so in the future. At the same time, the Chinese people will never allow any outside forces to bully, oppress or enslave us. Anyone who tries to do so will be crushed to death before the Great Wall of steel built with the flesh and blood of over 1.4 billion Chinese people," Xi warned in front of a cheering crowd.
Learning from history, Xi added that only the modernization of the armed forces would enable China to safeguard national security and regional stability.
On Hong Kong, Xi said the territory's stability will be ensured with the implementation of the National Security Law, which is seen by some locals there as signs of narrowing of their democratic freedom.
He also reiterated Beijing's ambition of achieving reunification with Taiwan, and promised to crush any push for independence on the island that China considers to be a renegade province.
"No one should underestimate the strong determination, firm will and strong ability of the Chinese people to safeguard national sovereignty and territorial integrity," said Xi.
Taiwan's Mainland Affairs Council said democracy, freedom, human rights and rule of law are the core values that Taiwan holds on to, which is very different from the authoritarian regime on the other side of the Taiwan Strait.
"The nature of cross-strait relations should be based on mutual respect and understanding. The 23 million Taiwanese people already rejected the CCP's unilateral 'One China' policy and the so-called 1992 consensus," the council said in a press release in response to Xi's speech.
The Taiwanese government will firmly defend its national sovereignty and Taiwan's democracy and freedom, the council said.
"Now [China] is becoming even more authoritarian in the name of national rejuvenation and attempts to interfere with international order," the council said. "It even reveals its ambition to become a regional and global dominator... it has caused great threats to regional safety and global democratic, freedom systems."
Meanwhile, Tom Rafferty, regional director for Asia at the Economist Intelligence Unit, said one of the most revealing elements of Xi's speech was his appeal to youth to support national goals -- something that comes at a time when there is broader debate in Chinese society about young people disengaged from public life.
There has been growing frustration among Chinese youths against the stress brought by the pursuit of a better life, so much so that they coined the word tangping, or to lay flat. Lay-flatters are typically self-centered and less ambitious, alarming China's government as it struggles with the country's declining birthrate and uncertain economic growth.
"[The focus on youth] also reveals the party's concern to renew itself and make a career in its ranks appealing to a younger generation. There will be sensitivity to how the senior leadership are perceived and there's a good chance their ranks will be older [on average] after next year's transition," Rafferty said.
"I feel proud as a member of the party," Su Jun, a 32-year old civil servant in Nanjing said about CCP-led modernization, achieved since China opened up its markets in 1979.
Like many other party members, Su sees the ongoing tension with the U.S. as an attempt to curb China's rise. "We will work harder to support local companies affected by the tension," he said.
It is young people like Su and together with the 95 million-strong CCP members that Xi hopes will carry on the mettle of the CCP to realize his second 100th goal in 2049 that marks the People's Republic founding centenary.
"The goal of building China into a great modern socialist country in all respects will surely be realized, and the dream of the great rejuvenation will surely come true," he said.
Additional reporting by Nikkei staff writers Grace Li in Tokyo and Lauly Li in Taipei