Chinese leader Xi Jinping was elevated to the pantheon of the country's greatest leaders Tuesday as his name was enshrined in the Communist Party constitution alongside Chairman Mao.
The move came at the close of a twice-a-decade congress that gathered the country's ruling elite alongside rank-and-file party members. Communist China's founder Mao Zedong, and the architect of market reforms, Deng Xiaoping, are the only other Chinese leaders to have their names in the document and only Mao was alive when his was included.
"The Chinese people and nation have a great and bright future ahead," Xi told party delegates as the meeting came to a close after delegates approved the addition of Xi's ideology of "socialism with Chinese characteristics for a new era" to the party charter.
"At this great time, we feel more self-confident and proud. At the same time, we also deeply feel a heavy sense of responsibility," he said.
The concept Xi has touted is seen as marking a break from the stage of economic reform ushered in by Deng Xiaoping in the late 1970s and continued under his successors Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao. The placement of Xi's thought among the party's leading guidelines also comes five years into his term — earlier than his predecessors.Xi has described his concept as central to setting China on the path to becoming a "great modern socialist country" by midcentury. This vision has at its core a ruling party that serves as the vanguard for everything from defending national security to providing moral guidance to ordinary Chinese.
He's set the target dates of 2021 — the 100th anniversary of the party's founding — and the People's Republic's centenary in 2049 — for the establishment of a prosperous, modern society. China has the world's second-largest economy and legions of newly wealthy urban residents, but raising living standards for millions of people continues to be a challenge. Some of his goals, such as building a modern military by 2035, go beyond the end of his second term, suggesting that he foresees himself staying at the center of China's political life for years to come.
His bold vision comes as Xi has sought to portray himself as a responsible global leader while US President Donald Trump trumpets a nationalist "America First" policy and the European Union grapples with Britain's exit from its club of nations.
The move came at the close of the 89 million-member party's twice-a-decade national congress at Beijing's hulking Great Hall of the People, where nearly 2,300 delegates gathered to elect the party's leading bodies and hear reports.
Although the delegates nominally have the power to vote on candidates, all choices are carefully vetted and the outcomes decided by negotiations among the top leaders.
The constitution was also amended to include references to the party's "absolute" leadership over the armed forces, which have been modernizing rapidly under Xi, and a commitment to promote Xi's signature foreign policy and infrastructure initiative known as "One Belt, One Road." That initiative seeks to link China to Southeast Asia, Central Asia, Africa, Europe and beyond with a sprawling network of roads, railways, ports and other economic projects.