Ahead of Chinese New Year, Xi Pushes Economic, Military Reform

Chinese President Xi Jinping speaks during the opening ceremony of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) in Beijing, China, January 16, 2016. Mark Schiefelbein/Pool/Reuters

BEIJING (Reuters) - Chinese President Xi Jinping has used a traditional pre-Lunar New Year visit to outlying regions to call for more effort to be made in economic and military reform, two causes of key importance to his administration.

Chinese leaders generally use the time around the festival to make inspection trips around the country where they flag important policy initiatives or areas of concern for the year ahead.

The week-long holiday, starting on Sunday, is the most important in the Chinese calendar, when millions of people travel home, many for the only time in the year.

Visiting an old revolutionary base in the southern province of Jiangxi, Xi said that backward production facilities should be shut and resources focused on new industries, in remarks carried in all major state newspapers on Thursday.

Xi urged Jiangxi to make reforms and use innovation and entrepreneurship to drive development as the economy has entered a "new normal" phase, an expression Xi coined two years ago to refer to China's slowing growth.

Officials need to apply "new development concepts" in promoting supply-side structural reform, boosting strong and emerging industries, upgrading traditional industries and developing a modern service sector, he added.

China's economic growth cooled to 6.9 percent in 2015, the slowest pace in 25 years.

The ruling Communist Party is keen to ensure that slowing growth neither brings social upheaval in the form of mass lay-offs, nor affects too badly the rise in living standards that three decades of economic boom and reform have bought.

Xi told villagers, in what is a relatively poor and backward part of the country, that the party was there to serve the Chinese people "wholeheartedly".

"We are committed to supporting development of the old revolutionary base areas and making your life better day by day. Not a single family living in poverty is to be left behind on our path to combating poverty," he said.

Xi also met members of the military, which is undergoing its own painful reform process to modernize the world's largest armed forces, including letting go of 300,000 service personnel.

He said China was committed to building a strong army, and all units must be loyal and do their part for the reforms.

"Education and guidance should be enhanced to promote servicemen's awareness to listen to the Party and follow the commands of the Party center and Central Military Commission," Xi said, referring to the body he leads which commands the military.