China’s Party Congress promises continuity, not change

The broader theme emerging from the ongoing Communist Party of China Congress is continuity, not change.

The week-long meeting began on Sunday to re-appoint Xi Jinping as a leader, reaffirm his commitment to his policies for the next five years and possibly as one of the most influential leaders in China’s modern history. His position is expected to escalate further. Here’s a look at what has happened so far and what’s about to happen:

More of the same

This is not a new twist for the party. This happened ten years ago when it named Xi as the leader, although it was unclear at the time. Since then, Xi has re-oriented China both domestically and internationally. The military has staked claim to the disputed territory. In contrast, diplomats have become more vocal, saying that China should not be allowed to take the U.S. and will not be intimidated by others.

Xi has brought back robust state control over the economy and society, expanding censorship and arrests to quell dissent. An unprecedented crackdown on corruption has brought down hundreds of senior officials, including some potential political rivals. The one-hour and 45-minute party report’s message that Xi delivered at the inaugural session on Sunday is all here to stay, which he praised the party’s efforts for “rejuvenating” the nation.

Elevating Xi

Xi has already outmaneuvered competitors and consolidated authority. The question is whether he will gain even more power – and how. In practice, he has put himself through a series of party working groups in charge of the military, foreign policy, economy and most other matters he heads.

Symbolically, his ideology, known as Xi Jinping Thought, was inducted into the Party Congress at the last Congress in 2017. Another amendment to the ConstitutionConstitution is on the agenda for this week’s Congress. No details have been given, but analysts say it could further boost his position in the party.

The new leaders

It is customary to unveil the top leadership for the party for the next five years the day after the Congress closes, with the small group named the Politburo Standing Committee being paraded on stage for the first time.

Xi, widely expected to be at the top, will get a third five-year term. This would be far from an unwritten agreement for party leaders to step down after two periods. Others named on the standing committee, which has seven members, could provide clues about Xi’s future and policy direction. He is expected to stack the committee with loyalists. Analysts wonder whether China’s economic slowdown will force it to reduce its enthusiasm for a state-run economy and include proponents of a more market-oriented approach.

No clear successor was chosen for the current standing committee in 2017, indicating Xi is eyeing a third term. Doing this again would suggest that he plans to stay longer.

Wait for the weekend

With most of this week’s season behind closed doors, none of this is likely to be known until the weekend. Any amendments to the ConstitutionConstitution would usually be announced at the concluding session on Saturday, and the parade of the new leadership would take place on Sunday.

Zero-Covid blues

For many Chinese people, weary of pandemic restrictions that have disrupted lives and the economy, the more immediate question is whether there will be any easing after the party congress. The answer is probably not immediately, and changes are most likely to be gradual when they do come. The Communist Party is always keen to portray the country in a positive light around the Congress and avoid any social disruption – and a major COVID-19 outbreak would be one.

But even after Congress, it remains uncertain how widely COVID-19 will spread if travel and other restrictions are eased, so party officials remain cautious about opening up. Plus, there’s always one more big event to worry about. As a follow-up to the party congress, China’s legislature will meet next year, perhaps in March. Many Chinese are preparing to hunk, at least until after that.

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