It was a crowning moment for Xi Jinping when he stepped onto a red-carpet stage on Sunday to begin his norm-shattering third term as China's supreme leader, media reported.
Xi, 69, has emerged from the ruling Communist Party's five-yearly congress with more power than ever, stacking his party's top tiers with longtime proteges and staunch allies.
That loyal inner circle has not only strengthened Xi's hold on power - but also tightened his grip over China's future. To an extent unseen in decades, the country's trajectory is shaped by the vision and ambition of one man, with minimal room for discord or recalibration at the party's apex of power, CNN reported.
In the eyes of Xi, China is closer than ever to achieving its dream of "national rejuvenation" and reclaiming its rightful place in the world. But the path ahead is also beset with "high winds, choppy waters, or even dangerous storms" - a dark warning Xi made at both the start and the end of the week-long congress.
The growing challenges have stemmed from "a grim and complex international situation," with "external attempts to suppress and contain China" threatening to "escalate at any time," according to Xi's work report to the congress.
Observers say Xi's answer to that darkening outlook is to intensify the fierce defence of China's national interests and security against all perceived threats.
"Xi is likely to tightly control and be involved in all major foreign policy decisions. His packing of the top Chinese leadership with loyalists will allow him to better control and exert influence," said Bonny Lin, director of the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) China Power Project, CNN reported.
What he decides to do - and how he goes about doing it - will have a profound impact on the world.
Xi steps into his next era in power facing a significantly different landscape to his previous two terms. The relationship between China and the West has changed dramatically with US-China relations cratering over a trade and tech war, frictions over Taiwan, Covid-19, Beijing's human rights record and its refusal to condemn Russia's war in Ukraine, CNN reported.