Xi Set to Kick Off Historic Communist Party Congress on Sunday

Chinese President Xi is set to take stage to open a historic Communist Party Congress on Sunday, where he is poised to win a third leadership term that will engrave his name to the country’s history as the most powerful ruler since Mao. Despite being a historic one, the congress comes at a tumultuous time for China, with Xi’s zero-COVID policy hampering the economy, and his support for Putin has seen China move further away from the West. The week-long congress will be attended by around 2,300 delegates and will take place mostly behind closed doors at the Great Hall of the People on Tiananmen Square.

Because of a lack of transparency in Chinese politics, analysts are left to speculate over who will be named to key posts.

Nevertheless, a deviation in direction during a third Xi term is not expected, with continued policies that prioritize security and self-reliance, state control of the economy, more assertive diplomatic and military policy, and growing pressure to seize Taiwan.

The congress will conclude with the introduction of the next Politburo Standing Committee (PSC), the elite body that now numbers seven and that Xi has come to dominate.

The congress will likely begin with Xi reading a lengthy report in a televised speech that will outline broad priorities for the next five years. It begins a months-long process of personnel change at the top of the party and government that will conclude in March at the annual session of parliament.

Securing a third term means Xi will break a decades long precedent. Another norm breaking news is that Xi has not point to a successor, which could mean he plans to stay in power even longer.

One of the topics during the Congress which will garner much interest is who will be named as the next premier when Li steps down in March. While there are several senior officials considered to be in the list, no one has come as the obvious choice, another norm-breaking development.

Still, the views of any individual matter less nowadays as Xi has sidelined those seen as “reformers” in favor of his more state-driven and nationalistic economic policies.

Xi’s opening speech at the last congress, in 2017, was broadly upbeat, including ambitious plans to turn China into a leading global power by 2050. He mentioned “reforms” 70 times in a speech that lasted nearly three-and-a-half hours.

But circumstances have changed significantly from then. Chinese economy has been hit hard by COVID restrictions, the country’s huge property sector has gone into crisis and Xi mounted pressure on the tech industry. In addition, Beijing’s relations with the West have sharply deteriorated.

Investors and Chinese citizens hoping the congress marks a milestone after which China begins laying groundwork to dial back on zero-COVID appear increasingly likely to be disappointed as Beijing has this week repeatedly reaffirmed its commitment to the policy.

Analysts also say the congress is unlikely to trigger any immediate or dramatic changes in policy to revive an economy that is seen on track to grow about 3% this year, falling far short of the official target of around 5.5%.

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