The Party congress that will change the world begins on October 16

Politics & Current Affairs

China has set the start date for the 20th National Congress, the nation’s high-level meeting where Xi is expected to consolidate his power.

Illustration by Nadya Yeh

China’s ruling Communist Party will host its 20th National Congress, which takes place once every five years, starting on October 16 in Beijing, state media announced on Tuesday. The seventh plenum will begin a week earlier to prepare for the congress.

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President Xí Jìnpíng 习近平 is widely expected to usher in his third term as China’s leader, a move that would break the precedent of the two-term limits on presidency that Xi had eliminated in 2018. Since his appointment as General Secretary a decade ago, Xi has steadily consolidated power to a point where he is often equated with China’s late revolutionary dictator, Chairman Máo Zédōng 毛泽东.

  • Xi, who celebrated his 69th birthday in June, has also passed the Party’s unwritten retirement age of 68, while taking the reins over other areas of governance previously assigned to the premier and other top officials.
  • The Party congress will also be an opportunity for Xi to promote trusted allies to positions on the Politburo’s seven-person standing committee: In June, Wáng Xiǎohóng 王小洪, 64, who overlapped with Xi when he served as a deputy police head of Fuzhou, was appointed as minister of public security. He replaced Zhao Kezhi 赵克志, who reached the age of 68.
  • China’s last two presidents, Hú Jǐntāo 胡锦涛 and Jiāng Zémín 江泽民, both served two five-year terms prior to Xi’s removal of term limits. The reelection would depart from a collective leadership system that was put into place in the 1980s by then-president Dèng Xiǎopíng 邓小平, designed as a safeguard against a one-person rule or a cult of personality after Mao.
  • Xi’s power is expected to be “further cemented by his reappointment as state president at the annual session of China’s parliament early next year.”

The October congress comes against a backdrop of mounting problems both at home and abroad: China’s economy has been dragged down by power-draining heat waves, COVID lockdowns, and a property crisis. Meanwhile, foreign relations, particularly with the United States, have grown even more fraught over China’s human rights record, Taiwan, and many other issues.

  • “For people who are concerned about stability, whether it’s the stability of the markets, the economy, the real estate market, the stability of society, the succession issue is of outsize importance. Messianic self-belief has meant that Xi Jinping has reopened the Pandora’s box of succession,” scholar Geremie R. Barmé told The China Project in April.
  • The date of Xi’s likely reelection will “[set] Xi up for a strong return to the international stage at a series of key summits,” after not leaving China for nearly three years due to COVID zero: Indonesian President Joko Widodo said earlier this month that Xi and Russian President Vladimir Putin will attend the Group of 20 (G20) summit in Bali in November, along with U.S. President Joe Biden.

Nadya Yeh

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