The Politburo on Tuesday announced the start date for the congress, which usually lasts about a week and usually takes place behind closed doors in the Great Hall of the People on the west side of Tiananmen Square in central Beijing.
Xi, 69, has steadily consolidated power since becoming party general secretary a decade ago, eliminating any known factional opposition to his rule. He is expected to exercise largely undisputed control over key appointments and policy guidelines at a congress that many China watchers liken to a coronation.
Since coming to power, Xi, the son of a communist revolutionary, has strengthened the party and its role in society, eliminating room for dissent.
Under Xi, China has also become much more assertive on the global stage as the leader of the developing world and as an alternative to the US-led post-World War II order.
“He will take China to an even more Chinese-centric approach to policy, especially foreign policy,” said Steve Tsang, director of the SOAS China Institute at the University of London. “He will also strengthen the importance of the party that leads everything in China, and the party that fully follows its leader,” Tsang said.
Xi’s likely ascendancy to a third five-year term, and possibly more, was established in 2018 when he abolished the two-term limit for the presidency, a position that will be extended at the annual parliamentary meeting in March.
A day after the 20th party congress, Xi is expected to return to the role of Secretary General of the Communist Party and Chairman of the Central Military Commission.
With little change in broad policy direction, the main congressional results will revolve around staff – who will join Xi on the Politburo’s Standing Committee (PSC) and replace Prime Minister Li Keqiang, who will retire in March .
Candidates to become prime minister, a role charged with managing the economy, include Wang Yang, 67, who heads a major political advisory body, and Hu Chunhua, 59, a deputy prime minister. Both were formerly the leaders of the Communist Party of the southern province of Guangdong.
Another prime ministerial opportunity is Chen Min’er, 61, a protégé of Xi who is party leader of the sprawling Chongqing Municipality but has never held a national position.
The composition and size of the next PSC, which now has seven members, is also being closely monitored.
Two current members have reached traditional retirement age, and China watchers will consider whether the inclusion of a new member reflects the need to consider alternative views, although under Xi the notion of “groups” in Chinese politics seems largely a holdover to have become.
“After Xi puts his loyalists in positions of power with this party congress, Xi will have a greater mandate to enact whatever policies he wants,” said Alfred Wu, an associate professor at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy at the National University of Singapore .
Outside the congress
After Congress, many in China and worldwide will look forward to Beijing’s efforts to avert a protracted economic downturn, raising the likelihood of Covid restrictions being eased, albeit a lack of widespread immunity below 1.4 billion people of China and the absence of more effective mRNA vaccines remain limitations.
Beijing’s strict “dynamic zero” Covid policy has led to frequent and disruptive lockdowns that have frustrated citizens, battered the economy and made China a global outlier.
Investors will also be looking at how Beijing is dealing with soured relations with the West.
Few China watchers expect Beijing to make a military move on Taiwan anytime soon, and there is little sign that society is preparing for such a risky move and the backlash it would cause, like heavy Western sanctions.
But for Xi, successfully solving the “Taiwan issue” would secure his place in Chinese history alongside Mao’s.