President Xi Jinping assured the nation that the “light of hope is right in front” of China as it battles Covid-19 and called for unity and perseverance in this “new stage” of pandemic control in his New Year’s address on Saturday night. Xi’s address came less than a month after China made a sudden U-turn on its long-held zero-Covid policy in December 2022. After lifting the stringent mass testing and lockdown rules nationwide in early December, Beijing announced last week that the borders would be fully reopened on January 8. The rushed reopening heavily burdened China’s public health system , leaving hospitals straining under an unprecedented explosion in Covid-19 cases in major cities. Mortuaries struggled to cope as the fatalities piled up, while pharmacies ran out of medicines and other essential Covid supplies. Xi praised China’s medical professionals and grass roots officials for “bravely sticking to their posts through all the hardship”. “At present, the pandemic prevention and control has entered a new stage. Everyone is holding on with great fortitude, and the light of hope is right in front of us,” he said in an upbeat tone. “With extraordinary efforts, China has prevailed over unprecedented difficulties and challenges, and it has not been an easy journey for anyone,” he said, seated behind a desk, with a picture of the Great Wall of China and the national flag behind him. Flanking him were bookcases with framed photographs of him with his family, and from his official inspection tours around the country. Chinese migrant workers protest amid Covid-19 lockdowns in Guangzhou “Let’s all work harder. Persistence means victory, unity means victory,” said Xi. He also defended the country’s policies on fighting the virus. “Following a science-based and targeted approach, we have adapted our Covid response in light of the evolving situation to protect the life and health of the people to the greatest extent possible,” he said. Without mentioning specific policies, Xi also struck a conciliatory tone admitting there are different views from Chinese people. “As China is a big country, it is only natural for different people to have different concerns or hold different views on the same issue. What matters is that we build consensus through communication and consultation,” he said, adding that “when the 1.4 billion Chinese work with one heart and one mind, and stand in unity with a strong will, no task will be impossible and no difficulty insurmountable.” The Chinese president also assured the world that China will not close its doors. “Today’s China is a country closely linked with the world,” he said, adding that China “cherishes peace and development and values friends and partners as always”. Xi also looked on his visit to Hong Kong this July to mark the 25th anniversary of the handover, saying that he was “very glad to see that Hong Kong has restored order and is set to thrive again”. He added that the determined implementation of “one country, two systems,” will help Hong Kong and Macau enjoy long-term prosperity and stability. Beijing has tightened its control over Hong Kong following anti-government protests in 2019, implementing a national security law in 2020 and sweeping electoral overhaul last year. The West and liberal activists accuse Beijing of eroding the city’s freedoms, but both mainland and Hong Kong officials have defended the law as necessary to restore order. A recent interpretation of the law by the National People’s Congress – China’s top legislative body – said the city’s chief executive and the national security committee he leads would decide whether foreign lawyers should be allowed in national security law cases. Ashes of former Chinese president Jiang Zemin scattered into the sea Xi also addressed Taiwan, saying that the people on both sides of the strait are “members of one and the same family”, expressing his hope that they will work together to “jointly foster the lasting prosperity” of the Chinese nation. Tensions with both Taipei and the United States escalated in August after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi visited Taiwan in defiance of Beijing’s repeated warnings against doing so. The mainland’s military responded by staging large-scale live-fire exercises around the island and several smaller drills since then. Beijing has never renounced the use of force to achieve Taiwan reunification. Most countries, including the US, do not formally recognise Taiwan as an independent state but are opposed to the use of force to change the status quo. In the speech, Xi also paid tribute to former Chinese leader Jiang Zemin, who died on November 30 aged 96 , hailing his “towering achievements and noble demeanour”. Xi also said he is confident about the country’s economic outlook in 2023, adding that the country’s gross domestic product for the whole 2022 is expected to exceed 120 trillion yuan (about US$17.23 trillion) for the first time. Putin invites Xi to visit Russia to show strength of ties with China He added that China has introduced tax and fee cuts and other measures to ease the burden on businesses and made active efforts to solve people’s most pressing concerns. But just like the previous year, he did not give a projection of China’s economic growth in 2023.