Greeting the Chinese people at home and abroad on the New Year's Eve, President Xi Jinping on Tuesday expressed concern over the situation in Hong Kong where pro-democracy protesters were holding unprecedented demonstrations for the last seven months, posing a major challenge to the ruling Communist Party of China (CPC).
The disquieting situation in Hong Kong, which continued to witness mass protests, especially by youth who often turned violent, figured high in Xi's customary New Year's Eve speech over the state-run China Central Television.
"The situation in Hong Kong has been everybody's concern over the past few months," Xi said, without directly referring to the protests.
Xi is regarded as the most powerful Chinese leader after Chairman Mao Zedong with prospect of life long tenure in office following the constitutional amendment removing a two-year tenure for President. Besides Presidency, Xi also heads the party and the military.
"Without a harmonious and stable environment, how can there be a home where people can live and work happily?" Xi asked with a tone of exasperation over unending protests.
"We sincerely hope for the best for Hong Kong and Hong Kong compatriots," he said.
A prosperous and stable Hong Kong is the aspiration of Hong Kong compatriots, as well as the expectation of the people of the motherland, he said.
What has started as protests against an extradition bill piloted by the pro-Beijing Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam, the demonstrations grew in intensity and turned into full-blown movement against increasing control of China.
Besides calling for Lam's resignation, the protestors are demanding an independent probe into the use of force by police, amnesty for arrested protesters, a halt to categorising the protests as riots and the implementation of universal suffrage to elect their own representatives to govern the province.
The protests continued despite the withdrawal of the bill. The pro-democracy parties also registered a landslide victory in the local elections.
Xi, who continued to back Lam and her administration, however, has been reiterating Beijing's "unswerving determination" to protect national sovereignty, security and development interests and oppose any external force in interfering in Hong Kong's affairs.
In his address, Xi gave an upbeat picture of the Chinese economy, which continued to reel under slowdown causing concerns at home and abroad.
China's GDP is expected to touch 100 trillion yuan ($14.37 trillion) in 2019, Xi said.
China last week announced that a new GDP data under a unified accounting mechanism will be introduced from 2020. In 2018 according to revised official figures, the GDP of the world's second largest economy totalled to $13.1 trillion from $12.8 trillion in 2017.
The Chinese economy grew at an annual pace of 6 per cent in the July-September, the slowest growth since 1992. The slowdown is exasperated by the on-going trade war between the US and China.
Xi also said China's per capita GDP is expected to reach USD 10,000 in 2019. He said this year China has cut over two trillion yuan (around $287 billion) of taxes and fees in 2019.
He reaffirmed his resolve to eradicate poverty in 2020.
In his speech, Xi vowed to lift all rural residents living below the poverty line and eliminate poverty in all poor counties.
Around 340 poor counties across China will get rid of poverty and more than 10 million people will be lifted out of poverty by the end of 2019, he said.
He also spoke about China's diplomatic clout saying that Beijing has established diplomatic relations with 180 countries. "We have friends all over the world", he said.
Noting that there are both peaceful and eventful times in history, Xi said that "we are not afraid of wind and rain, or any kind of difficulties."
He said China will unswervingly follow the path of peaceful development, safeguard the world peace and promote common development.
He also said his pet project the multi-billion dollar Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) made progress this year.
"We stand ready to join hands with people around the world to actively build the Belt and Road (BRI) push for the building of a community with a shared future for humanity, and work tirelessly to create a better future for humanity," Xi said.
The BRI aims to link Southeast Asia, Central Asia, the Gulf region, Africa and Europe with a network of land and sea route. The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, which connects Gwadar Port in Balochistan with China's Xinjiang province, is the flagship project of Xi's ambitious BRI.