Xi confers medals for virus fight at victory ceremony in Great Hall

Beijing: Chinese President Xi Jinping has hailed his country's success in suppressing the deadly coronavirus pandemic first discovered on its soil, even as confirmed infections globally race toward the 30 million mark.

In a pomp-filled ceremony in the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, Xi personally conferred medals on citizens deemed to have played instrumental roles in China's fight against the virus identified in December in Wuhan. While other nations from India and the US grapple with ever-expanding outbreaks, China hasn't reported a domestic infection in 22 days and Xi has increasingly turned his attention to bolstering the battered economy.

Chinese President Xi Jinping presents a medal at an event to honour some of those involved in the fight against COVID-19 at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on Tuesday.Credit:AP

The proceedings glossed over criticism of Beijing's initial response to the pandemic, which had initially appeared to threaten the Communist Party's legitimacy before China contained the virus and worse outbreaks in other nations overshadowed its struggles.

Xi made no mention of the more than three weeks that passed in January between efforts to censor doctors' first warnings of human-to-human transmission and China's official acknowledgement of the infection risk.

He said China had acted in an open and transparent manner on the COVID-19 outbreak and that it had taken concrete efforts that helped save tens of millions of lives around the world.

The President seized on China's relative success to tout the merits of one-party rule, as leaders in democratically run countries grapple with protests against mask-mandates and extended lockdowns. None of the participants who shared the stage with Xi wore masks and the President shook hands with several people while leaving, a striking display of China's progress.

"The CCP's strong leadership is the most reliable backbone when a storm hits," Xi said in a speech that stretched for more than 70 minutes. "The pandemic once again proves the superiority of the socialist system with Chinese characteristics."

Attendees wearing face masks watch an event to honour some of those involved in China’s fight against COVID-19 at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing.Credit:AP

The event provided a sharp contrast against scenes unfolding elsewhere around the world, including the US, where the country's coronavirus struggles have eroded President Donald Trump's chances at winning re-election in November. Trump, who initially praised Xi's response, has since accused China of deliberately causing the pandemic to hurt him politically.

On Monday, Trump vowed to escalate efforts to roll back ties between the world’s two largest economies in retaliation for the virus. "We'll prohibit federal contracts from companies that outsource to China and we'll hold China accountable for allowing the virus to spread around the world," Trump told reporters at the White House.

China's state-run media has closely covered the coronavirus outbreaks afflicting rivals from the US to India. The country's Foreign Ministry has repeatedly accused American politicians of attempting to deflect blame for their own political problems onto China.

Meanwhile, China appears poised to emerge from the pandemic-driven economic downturn before other large nations. It reported a 3.2 per cent year-on-year increase in economic output in the second quarter, reversing a 6.8 per cent decline in the first three months of the year.

Xi vowed to establish a long-term system for coordinating coronavirus-control efforts and develop the economy. He acknowledged that China continued to face the risk of sporadic virus infections.

"No country can stand alone in the face of major crises," Xi said. "Those who care only about themselves, shift blame to others, confuse right and wrong and mix black and white, will not only cause harm to their countries and people, but also to the people of all countries in the world."


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