BEIJING (AP) – The overarching theme emerging from the current Chinese Communist Party congress is continuity, not change.
The weekly meeting, which opened on Sunday, is expected to reappoint Xi Jinping as leader, reaffirm a commitment to his policies for the next five years and perhaps further elevate his status as one of the most powerful leaders in China’s modern history.
See what happened so far, and what’s next:
MORE OF THE SAME
This is not a turning point for the party. This happened 10 years ago when he appointed Xi as leader, although it was not obvious at the time.
Since then, Xi has reoriented China both domestically and internationally. The military has laid claim to the disputed territory, while diplomats have become more assertive, saying China will not be bullied by the US and others.
Xi has restored stronger state control over the economy and society, expanding censorship and arrests to stifle dissent. An unprecedented crackdown on corruption has brought down hundreds of senior officials, including some potential political rivals.
It’s all here to stay was the message from the one-hour and 45-minute party report Xi delivered at the opening session on Sunday, extolling the party’s efforts toward what he called the “rejuvenation” of the nation.
Xi has already swept away rivals and consolidated power. The question is whether and how they will gain even more power.
Practically, he took care of the military, foreign policy, economy and most other issues through a series of party working groups headed by him.
Symbolically, his ideology, known as Xi Jinping Thought, was incorporated into the party congress at the previous congress in 2017.
Another amendment to the constitution is on the agenda of this week’s congress. No details have been disclosed, but analysts say it could further boost his standing in the party.
It is customary for the party to unveil its top leadership for the next five years the day after the congress closes, and the small group appointed to the Politburo Standing Committee are identified for the first time when they parade on stage.
Xi is expected to come out on top and win a third five-year term. This would avoid an unwritten agreement for party leaders to step down after two terms.
Other appointees to the Standing Committee, which currently has seven members, could offer clues to Xi’s future and policy direction.
The committee is expected to be stacked with loyalists. Analysts wonder whether China’s economic decline will force it to tone down its enthusiasm for the state economy and include supporters of a market-oriented approach.
No obvious successor was elected to the current Standing Committee in 2017, signaling that Xi is eyeing a third term. If he does it again, it would suggest that he is planning an even longer stay.
WAIT FOR THE WEEKEND
With most of this week’s sessions behind closed doors, none of this will likely be known until the weekend. Any amendment to the constitution would normally be announced at the final session on Saturday, and the new leadership was paraded on Sunday.
ZERO – COVID BLUES
For many Chinese, weary of pandemic restrictions that have disrupted lives and the economy, the more pressing question is whether there will be any easing after the party congress.
The answer is probably not immediate, and changes when they do come will most likely be gradual.
The Communist Party is always keen to portray the country in a positive light around the congress and avoid any social disruption – and that would be a major COVID-19 outbreak.
But even after the convention, it will remain uncertain how far COVID-19 will spread if travel and other restrictions are eased, so party officials remain cautious about reopening.
Plus, there’s always another big event to worry about. As a follow-up to the party congress, China’s legislature will meet next year, probably in March. Many Chinese are preparing to withdraw at least until after that.