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Wide-ranging changes likely as China gears for Communist party congress

President Xi Jinping is expected to consolidate his powers but new leaders will be inducted in CPC’s elite bodies.

world Updated: Oct 17, 2017 17:36 IST
Sutirtho Patranobis
Staff members of the Huaibei Mining Group dressed in Red Army uniforms perform to welcome the upcoming 19th Party Congress in Huaibei in China's eastern Anhui province.
Staff members of the Huaibei Mining Group dressed in Red Army uniforms perform to welcome the upcoming 19th Party Congress in Huaibei in China's eastern Anhui province.(AFP)

Wide-ranging changes in the Communist Party of China’s leadership and a renewed thrust on economic development are expected when more than 2,200 top party members gather for a key once-in-five years meeting in Beijing on Wednesday.

The congress will go on for seven days till October 24, according to Tuo Zhen, the spokesperson for the 19th National Congress and senior propaganda department official.

President Xi Jinping is expected to consolidate his powers but new leaders will be inducted in CPC’s elite bodies including the central committee, politburo and the PB standing committee, the most powerful decision-making group in the CPC.

Senior officers are expected to be replaced in the Central Military Commission, which controls the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), at the 19th CPC congress.

Xi, who will present a work report to the congress on his five years in office, is expected to solidify his hold in the party and the government; he is already the CPC general secretary and the CMC chairperson besides heading the group on the economy, national security and is also designated the “core” of the party.

Not only is his political doctrine or “concepts, thoughts and strategies” are expected to be embedded in an amended CPC charter, Xi is expected to fill up many top posts – including in the CMC – with people close to him.

Though the event will be closely tracked, procedures remain shrouded in secrecy.

China-watchers worldwide will look for changes in policies and whether the next generation of leaders – who would normally take over in 2022 at the end of Xi’s 10-year-term – would be unveiled at the end of the Congress.

Whether Xi will indicate a successor remains an aspect of the congress under sharp focus.

It is widely believed that intense backroom negotiations were carried out to fill up the posts that will become vacant – either because incumbents have retired or were sidelined or punished because of Xi’s ongoing anti-corruption campaign.

“I expect the focus for next term/leadership will be ‘the realisation of the first 100 years’ (of the CPC) with priority on economic development and livelihood improvement. This is because of the big losses in the anti-corruption campaign in last five years and with emerging economy problems,” said Zhang Lifan, a Beijing-based political commentator and historian.

“If the economy cannot be improved, Xi will be viewed as ‘incompetent’ which will make thing much harder for his third term,” Zhang said.

Kerry Brown, professor of Chinese Studies and Director of the Lau China Institute, King's College in London spoke to HT about the expected changes. “Among the changes expected are personnel changes which will give some idea of whether Xi Jinping will be an increasingly autocratic leader (if the figures are very closely associated with him) or whether promotion is more about experience and therefore serving the mission of making a strong sustainable one-party system,” Brown said.

The other change will be in policy.

“Will the CPC issue some new ideological formula that will link with the China Dream, the creation of a more equitable society which the party serves, and the role of the market and its links to the need for accelerated, controlled reform under the state,” Brown added.

“Xi has been very successful in securing the control of the CPC via the leading small groups, the inspection and discipline commission and personnel departments. The anti-corruption campaign has affected broad swathes of the CPC membership and the factional balance is now tilted unequivocally in Xi’s favour,” said Jonathan Sullivan, director China Policy Institute at the University of Nottingham.

It is all but given that Xi will emerge a stronger leader at the end of the 19th Congress.

“A strong Xi at least means predictable China – but also a China that will demand a relationship with the outside world on its own terms,” Brown added.