China is heading this Sunday to the biggest event of its domestic politics; the 20th National Congress of the Communist Party, a historic event that will introduce changes in the leadership of the Government and will allow the president of the Asian giant, Xi Jinping, to get a third term and consolidate his power in uncertain times for Beijing.
What has already been considered one of the most powerful Chinese leaders in decades will thus kick off a congress that comes at a challenging time, with a China that clings to its strict health policy to deal with the coronavirus and a geopolitical stance towards Russia that distances it from the West.
Nevertheless, and with the approval of the party leadership, everything points to Xi renewing his mandate and not passing the baton to a possible successor, as has been common in the past when the head of state completed a decade in power.
The National Congress, the meeting that draws the guidelines for the next five years of the country’s political, social, economic and cultural life, takes place every five years and lasts about a week.
Usually held in October or November, it is attended by some 2,300 delegates chosen in advance by party members and drawn from all corners of the country, only about a quarter of whom are women, while 11 percent are part of ethnic minorities.
There are three rings of power in this hierarchy: some 400 delegates are also members of the elite Central Committee, which in turn includes the 25 members of the Politburo, the decision-making body of the top leadership, and its Standing Committee, which usually consists of between five and nine top officials. Politburo members are usually ethnic Han, the majority ethnic group in China.
Although Xi is scheduled to be reappointed party secretary general, for all practical purposes he will not see his third term as head of state revalidated until the election is formalized next March.
This year’s Congress presents another peculiarity. It will decide the future of the country’s prime minister, Li Keqiang, who has already announced his retirement but will also have to wait until March to leave office definitively.
However, there are already speculations about the succession, with a list that includes names such as that of the chairman of the National Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, Wang Yang, 67, or that of Vice Premier Hu Chunhua, 59.
The Chinese capital has already begun to increase its security arrangements and has reinforced measures against the coronavirus in the run-up to the political meeting, an event that will be held behind closed doors in the Great Hall of the People, which is located in Tiananmen Square.
The opacity of Chinese politics has led to speculation about who will be chosen to fill top government posts, although few expect major changes.
After the vote, considered by many a mere formality, the newly formed Central Committee meets in what will be its first plenary session, at which they will elect the components of the Politburo and the Standing Committee.
Xi is thus heading towards the consolidation of his power in the face of a “complex environment at the international level” and with “numerous internal challenges”, as noted by some members of the party leadership, which highlights the “unusual and extraordinary” achievements of a politician whose ascending career at first surprised delegates and members of what is the largest political organization in the world.