In 47 days, the ruling Communist Party of China will hold its 20th National Congress, at which Xi is widely expected to extend his hold on power for another five years — a move that would cement his status as the country’s most powerful leader in decades. .
The congress will begin in Beijing on Oct. 16 at a “critical time” for the country, the party’s 25-member Politburo said on Tuesday, adding that preparations are “running well”.
That start date is in line with tradition – in recent decades the party has always held its congresses between September and November. The highly choreographed cases usually last about a week and bring together some 2,000 delegates from across the country in a show of unity and legitimacy.
But this year’s convention is anything but conventional.
Xi, who has consolidated tremendous power since taking office a decade ago, is widely expected to pursue an unprecedented third term as China’s top leader, breaking the conventions established by his predecessors since the early 1990s. .
The political headwind has sparked intense speculation about Xi’s authority in some parts of the overseas China-watching community, with some questioning his prospects of securing a third term.
“Very often, when there are challenges, it’s not bad at all for the supreme leader,” said Dali Yang, a political scientist at the University of Chicago. “In fact, authoritarian leaders like Xi thrive on challenges — and often use such crises to increase their power.”
Yang cited Xi’s ability to fill key positions of power with his trusted aides — from the internal security apparatus to the propaganda front and leadership roles in key provinces — as signs that the top leader is firmly in control.
The latest announcement at the party congress is a sign that Xi has straightened out decisions about personnel arrangements and political paths, according to Deng Yuwen, a former Communist Party newspaper editor who now lives in the United States.
“Xi wants to leave his political legacy at the 20th party congress, and these three will be the main themes at the meeting, as well as the political lines that will be plotted after the congress,” Deng said.
Holding the convention in mid-October also leaves some buffer time for Xi to attend major international events in November, such as the Group of 20 summit in Indonesia. “Xi hasn’t left the country for almost three years and it has had a very negative impact on Chinese diplomacy,” Deng said.
As for the Chinese public, many have paid little attention to party congresses in the past – they have nothing to say about the country’s political leadership transition or the making of important policies.
But this year, for those increasingly impatient and frustrated with the endless lockdowns and Covid testing, news of the congressional start date is a long-awaited relief.
“There are a lot of people eagerly looking forward to this party congress, (because) they hope there will be a shift in the way China is dealing with Covid,” Yang said.
But when – and how – that will happen is still a mystery.