Communist Party of China holds 19th Congress on Wednesday: What is it about and why is it important?

The Communist Party of China (CPC), the ruling party in the country, will hold its 19th Congress on Wednesday. The Congress is a twice-a-decade political meeting to reshuffle leadership positions in the country.

The Congress is not just important for China but also for the world as it will decide on the future of political and military leadership in the country through what AFP calls an "opaque selection process".

Why is this Congress important?

China's Communist Party has held 18 Congresses to fill its leadership ranks since 1921. The party, which has held absolute power since 1949, organises the meetings every five years.

This year, 2,287 delegates from across the country will descend on Beijing in a highly choreographed event to pick members of the 205-person Central Committee, reported AFP.

Communist Party of China holds 19th Congress on Wednesday: What is it about and why is it important?

File image of Chinese president Xi Jinping. AP

The committee will name the line-up of the country's anti-graft watchdog, the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection (CCDI). It will also select members for the 25-person Politburo and its all-powerful Standing Committee — the country's highest leadership body comprising just seven people. The Standing Committee will be unveiled at the end of the Congress, which usually lasts about a week.

A series of other appointments will also be made over the Congress period. These include provincial party chiefs and governors and heads of some state-owned enterprises, according to Reuters.

At the very top, President Xi Jinping is expected to cruise to a second, five-year term as general secretary of the party, like his two immediate predecessors, Hu Jintao and Jiang Zemin. Xi will speak at the conclave to summarise the country's achievements in the past five years and lay out the direction for the next five.

The party’s constitution will be amended at the end of the Congress, likely to include a reference to Xi’s thinking or ideology as a guiding party principle, joining Mao Zedong and the reformist former leader Deng Xiaoping, whose names are already enshrined in the document.

The 19th Congress is a gathering of China’s most powerful people: Incumbent state leaders, cabinet ministers, top military generals, provincial party chiefs and governors, mayors of major cities as well as managers of large state-controlled enterprises and banks.

Xi Jinping: The man of the hour

Analysts expect Xi to consolidate his power at the Congress, confirming his stature as China's most powerful ruler since Deng Xiaoping or even Mao Zedong. One strong indicator of his elevation into this exclusive pantheon of Chinese leaders would be if his name is added to the party's constitution.

Each Chinese leader since Mao has had one of his personal political philosophies or ideas codified in the constitution. Jiang's "Three Represents" and Hu's "Scientific Outlook on Development" were both written into the document, but without their names.

Only two philosophies have names attached to them in the Communist commandments: "Mao Zedong Thought" and "Deng Xiaoping Theory".

The official Xinhua news agency said last month that the constitution will be amended during the Congress to "reflect the new governance concepts, thoughts and strategies" developed by the Central Committee since the last meeting.

China's constitution limits the president and premier to two five-year terms, but there are no rules for the duration of party jobs — where the real power lies — except a ban on "lifelong tenure".

This has heightened speculation that Xi may try to stay in power in some capacity after 2022, especially since no one has emerged as a clear frontrunner to succeed him.

In late September, former Politburo member and Chongqing party secretary Sun Zhengcai, once seen as a strong contender for a leadership job, was expelled from the Communist ranks after being swept up in Xi's anti-graft campaign.

What else is expected at the Congress?

According to The Brookings Institution — a US-based nonprofit public policy organisation — only 17 percent of the military representatives with full membership of the 18th Central Committee will retain their seats after the 19th Congress, making this "the largest-ever turnover of military elite in the history of the PRC (People's Republic of China)".

The article also said that the new top military leadership will most likely comprise Xi's long-time friends like Gen Zhang Youxia, Gen Li Zuocheng and Adm Miao Hua.

The turnover rate between the 18th and 19th Central Committee may be 70 percent, making it the largest turnover since the 9th Congress in 1969, at the peak of the cultural revolution.

The current Standing Committee consists of Xi, Premier Li Keqiang, Zhang Dejiang, Yu Zhengsheng, Liu Yunshan, Wang Qishan, and Zhang Gaoli.

Career bureaucrats who rose through the Communist party ranks over decades, these seven men call the shots in the world's most populous country, each getting one vote on key policy decisions.

As general secretary, Xi reigns supreme, setting the agendas for their frequent, secret meetings.

One other man stands out from the pack: Wang Qishan is Xi's powerful right-hand man and heads the president's sweeping anti-corruption campaign, which has brought down senior and lower-level officials.

Another article in Quartz said that from Xi's power base, those likely to be a part of the Standing Committee are Chen Min'er, newly selected Chongqing party chief, Li Zhanshu, Xi's chief of staff and Wang Huning, academic-turned-policy advisor.

According to The Economic Times, the future of the One Belt One Road (OBOR) strategy will also be shaped by Xi after his re-election at the Congress. This is important for India because India has made its firm stand on OBOR clear to China and "has sent a message that Delhi is no longer a pushover amid China's attempt to dominate global discourse".

Chinese newspaper Global Times said that the 19th Congress needs to be looked at keeping China's history and goals in mind. "Some reports and commentaries have framed the political meeting like an episode of Game of Thrones. This makes for good entertainment, but trying to understand Chinese politics through the lens of American TV series or by projecting the mechanics of Western democracy onto Chinese politics creates a distorted picture of China's political system and why the Congress matters," it said.

With inputs from agencies

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Updated Date: Oct 18, 2017 10:06:50 IST

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