Some 400 senior leaders of the Communist Party of China (CPC), provincial chiefs, military officers and academics have gathered behind the thick walls of the Soviet-style Jingxi Hotel in Beijing for a crucial four-day meeting that could results in decisions with far-reaching impact.
In Communist jargon, it‘s the 6th Plenum of the 18th CPC Central Committee, the one which has been ruling China since the end of 2012 with party general secretary Xi Jinping – apparently in fine form – at the helm.
In less technical terms, this is an annual gathering of the high and mighty within the CPC. And this year’s meeting is crucial because it is the final plenum before next year’s mid-term CPC Congress, where there is a good chance that the new leadership for 2022 will be unveiled.
Historically, important decisions have been announced at the end of plenums. They have included, as Bloomberg pointed out, the launch of Deng Xiaoping’s economic reforms in 1978 and the removal of leaders following the crackdown on pro-democracy protests at Tiananmen Square in 1989.
At the end of the 2015 plenum, China announced it was formally ending the one-child policy after decades of using it curb population.
The ongoing meeting, which began on Monday, will focus on internal discipline as President Xi’s anti-corruption campaign keeps rounding up officials across the country on charges of graft and violating discipline.
“The plenum in Beijing will include the delivery of a work report to the CPC Central Committee by the Political Bureau, review of key issues concerning the comprehensive and strict management of the party, writing the norms of intra-party political life under the new situation; and a revision to an intra-party supervision regulation,” said a recent statement by official Xinhua news agency.
The state media has offered some staggering numbers for the anti-corruption drive.
“Over 1 million members of the CPC have been given disciplinary punishments since 2013 when the party launched a crackdown on corruption. The authority has handed over 1 million cases related to discipline violations to the procuratorate authorities during the past 3 years and nine months. 708,000 similar cases have been closed, involving some 1 million party members,” state media reported, quoting statistics from the Central Discipline Inspection Commission (CDIC), China's anti-corruption watchdog.
But will the plenum be only about intra-party discipline and tightening rules for better CPC management?
“It's clear from state media coverage of the sixth plenum that the emphasis is on unity within the party, and unity around the leadership of Xi Jinping. One of the most important catchphrases we are seeing right now is: ‘To govern the nation, we must first govern the party; in governing the party, we must be strict’,"said David Bandurski, a researcher at the University of Hong Kong's China Media Project.
It is around the all-powerful figure of Xi that the unity of the CPC has to be forged.
“The message here is that the senior leadership will not tolerate division and dissenting opinion within the party over the direction of the country. Xi Jinping expects loyalty and unity,” Bandurski said.
Joseph Fewsmith, who focusses on Chinese domestic politics at the Boston University, told Hindustan Times: “There is unlikely to be any public discussion on moving away from collective leadership (which has not been much in effect the last four years anyway), but the political implication will be to strengthen the Xi Jinping line. All this is likely to strengthen Xi's hand as we go into the 19th Party Congress next year.”
Victor Shih, a China expert at the School of Global Policy and Strategy at the University of California, is closely following the plenum to see if new rules of behaviour are announced.
“The most interesting thing to watch for is whether even more draconian policies will be enshrined to dictate the behaviour of party members and party officials. Already government officials cannot travel overseas without permission, and they cannot have both their spouses and children live overseas. I wonder if further restrictions will be imposed, such as limitation of family members to own any overseas assets,” Shih said.