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Future of China’s Communist Party and economy being decided at meeting this week

Xi is expected to consolidate his power, but doubts remain about economic growth and the identity of his future successor.

world Updated: Oct 18, 2017 11:42 IST
Sutirtho Patranobis
Chinese President Xi Jinping arrives at the opening of the 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China in Beijing on Wednesday.
Chinese President Xi Jinping arrives at the opening of the 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China in Beijing on Wednesday.(REUTERS / Jason Lee)

China’s most important political event of the year began on Wednesday, a meeting of the ruling Communist Party of China (CPC) that will lead to the appointment of new leaders and indicate the direction of government policy for the next five years.

The 19th National Congress in Beijing brings together 2,280 top members of the CPC . Though domestic and international interest in the meeting is intense, its procedures for setting agendas and making decisions are shrouded in mystery.

President and CPC general secretary Xi Jinping inaugurated the event with a speech trumpeting the government’s performance since he took over in 2012 and calling for ambition in the future. He was flanked on either side by former Presidents Hu Jintao and Jiang Zemin.

“Achieving national rejuvenation will be no walk in the park, and it will take more than drum beating and gong clanging to get there,” said Xi. Citing a Chinese adage that “the last leg of a journey just marks the halfway point,” Xi demanded that every Party member “be prepared to work even harder toward this goal”.

According to Zhang Lifan, a political commentator and historian based in Beijing, the future of the Chinese economy is the most important issue facing Xi and the other delegates, particularly since consumption has fallen after Xi’s anti-corruption measures and growth slowed down somewhat since he took office. “I expect the focus for next leadership will be ‘the realisation of the first 100 years’ (of the CPC) with priority on economic development and livelihood improvement,” he said. “This is because of the big losses in the anti-corruption campaign in the last five years and emerging economic problems.”

Herein lies a risk for Xi’s otherwise firm hold on power, said Zhang. “If the economy cannot be improved, Xi will be viewed as ‘incompetent’, which will make thing much harder for his third term.”

The official title and aim of the conclave was, for the CPC, characteristically long-winded: “secure a decisive victory in building a moderately prosperous society in all respects and strive for the great success of socialism with Chinese characteristics for a new era.”

Zhang and other experts HT spoke to agreed on some likely outcomes of the meeting. President Xi Jinping will consolidate his power through appointing loyalists and enshrining his political doctrines in the party charter. New leaders, many close to Xi, will be inducted into bodies such as the Central Military Commission, which controls the People’s Liberation Army.

Under normal circumstances, these inductees would take over in 2022, which will be the end of Xi’s ten-year term and the beginning of a new dispensation for the top governing bodies of the CPC. Not until the end of this year’s meeting, however, will one of its most critical issues be decided: whether or not Xi will announce a successor.