- The party must amend the leadership for the next five years
- Xi Jinping is expected to remain China’s leader
- Covid, deteriorating economy, tensions with the West in focus
BEIJING (Reuters) – China’s ruling Communist Party holds its five-year congress starting Oct. 16, as Xi Jinping prepares to secure a historic third term of leadership and cement his place as the country’s most powerful leader since Mao Zedong.
The Politburo announced on Tuesday the start date of the conference, which usually lasts about a week and is mostly held behind closed doors in the Great Hall of the People on the western side of Tiananmen Square in central Beijing.
Xi, 69, has steadily consolidated his power since becoming the party’s general secretary a decade ago, eliminating any known factional opposition to his rule. He is expected to exercise largely unchallenged control over key appointments and policy directives in Congress, which many China watchers liken to a coronation.
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Despite headwinds swept his way into a third term — from a moribund economy, the COVID-19 pandemic and rare public protests to growing friction with the West and tensions over Taiwan — Xi is preparing to secure a mandate to pursue his grand vision of “the rejuvenation of the Chinese nation” for years to come.
Since taking power, Xi, the son of a communist revolutionary, has strengthened the party and its role in society and removed space for dissent.
Under Xi, China has also become more assertive on the world stage as the leader of the developing world and an alternative to the US-led post-World War II order.
“It will take China to a more China-centric approach to politics, particularly foreign policy,” said Steve Tsang, director of the Chinese SOAS Institute at University College London. “It will also reinforce the importance of the Party’s leadership of everything in China, and the complete subordination of the Party to its leader,” Tsang said.
Xi’s likely rise to a third five-year term, and possibly more, was set in 2018 when he scrapped the two-term limit, a position due to be renewed at the annual parliamentary meeting in March.
On Wednesday, the website of the party’s official People’s Daily published an infographic highlighting Xi’s vision, including one of his signature statements: “Party, government, army, people, education; east, south, west, north, center: the party leads all something . “
A day after the 20th Party Congress, Xi is expected to once again be given the roles of General Secretary of the Communist Party and Chairman of the Central Military Commission.
With little change in policy direction expected, key findings for Congress will center around individuals – who will join Xi on the Politburo Standing Committee (PSC) and who replace Premier Li Keqiang, who is due to retire in March.
Among the contenders for the premiership, a role tasked with managing the economy, 67-year-old Wang Yang, who heads a key political advisory body, is Chunhua, 59, deputy prime minister. Both were formerly the head of the Communist Party of southern Guangdong Province.
Another potential prime minister is Chen Miner, 61, who is Xi’s subjects and head of the vast Chongqing Municipal Party, but has never held any position nationwide.
The formation and size of the next PSC, which now has seven members, will also be closely watched.
Two current members have reached the traditional retirement age, and China watchers will question whether the inclusion of any new members reflects the need to accommodate alternative viewpoints, although the notion of “factions” in Chinese politics under Xi appears to be largely a relic.
“Having put his loyalists in positions of power with this party convention, Xi will have a greater mandate to advance whatever policies he wants,” said Alfred Wu, associate professor at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy at the National University of Singapore. .
After the conference, many in China and the world will be watching Beijing’s efforts to stave off a prolonged economic downturn, increasing the chance of easing COVID restrictions, despite widespread immunodeficiency among China’s 1.4 billion people and the absence of more effective mRNA vaccines. Restrictions remain.
Beijing’s strict “dynamic zero” policy has led to repeated and devastating shutdowns that have frustrated citizens, battered its economy, and made China a global anomaly.
Investors will also be watching how Beijing handles strained relations with the West.
Xi’s stated desire to bring Taiwan under Beijing’s control will also be in focus during his third term, especially with rising tensions following US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s recent visit to Taipei. Taiwan’s democratically elected government strongly rejects China’s claims to sovereignty.
Since taking power, Xi has suppressed dissent in the once-troubled regions of Tibet and Xinjiang, locking down Hong Kong with a comprehensive national security law.
Few China watchers expect Beijing to take military action in Taiwan anytime soon, and there are few indications that society is preparing for such a high-risk move and the backlash it might provoke, such as severe Western sanctions.
But for Xi, a successful resolution of the “Taiwan issue” would secure his place in Chinese history on Mao’s side.
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(Reporting by Tony Munro and Yu Lun Tian); Editing by Lincoln Fest, Alex Richardson and Mark Heinrich
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