China Outlook: Beyond the 19th National Party Congress

Flash Points:

  • China 19th National Party Congress scheduled to begin October 18 – offers China President Xi Jinping opportunity to strengthen grip within party
  • Potential reshuffling exercises within Politburo Standing Committee, where 5 out of 7 members are expected to retire by convention
  • Post 19th Congress, China’s focus will be continuation of market reforms to rebalance its economy

Test of Power for Xi Jinping

As China gears up for its 19th National Party Congress, President Xi Jinping faces an important leadership transition; that offers Xi an opportunity to potentially strengthen his grip within the Communist Party of China (CPC), by consolidating his power and cementing his leadership for the next five years.

The five-yearly congress is scheduled to take place for a week, starting on the 18th of October. This Congress could see important changes within the top decision-making body of the CPC, otherwise known as the Politburo Standing Committee (PSC).

The PSC has an unofficial retirement age of 68, where if this is strictly adhered to, 5 out of the 7 members are expected to step down having exceeded the stated age. Only President Xi Jinping and the Premier Li Keqiang are below the unofficial retirement age.

Xi Jinping who has amassed significant political power in his first 5-year term, is expected to carry out wide-ranging economic as well as political reforms to steer China’s economy which is undergoing rapid changes as it seeks to rebalance its economy.

How the congress unravels would reveal the extent of Xi’s power in the second term through the makeup of the PSC, which would then be responsible for the future direction of the country.

What to Look Out For?

Following the trend from previous party meetings, we can expect scant details to emerge from the Congress, the proceedings of which are largely opaque to the public. However, we can take cues on what to expect based on the outcomes of past party Congresses.

Firstly, we should watch out for amendments to the party’s constitution, to see if Xi Jinping’s thoughts and speeches will be adopted as guidelines or core principles of the party. Specifically if these guidelines will be un-named or attributed to Xi himself.

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