China kicks off annual leadership meeting

Chinese President Xi Jinping (centre) and other senior leaders attending a gathering to commemorate the 80th anniversary of the victory of the Long March at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing last Friday.
Chinese President Xi Jinping (centre) and other senior leaders attending a gathering to commemorate the 80th anniversary of the victory of the Long March at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing last Friday.PHOTO: XINHUA

Key outcome of four-day gathering could be revised code of conduct for senior officials

The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) will begin an annual leadership meeting today and a key outcome could be  a revised code of conduct for party cadres, targeting even those at the apex Politburo Standing Committee (PSC).

Analysts say the revision, along with updates to another regulation on intra-party supervision, is being made as part of President Xi Jinping's bid to deepen his power base ahead of the 19th Party Congress late next year, where China will form a new leadership team.

In a report by the Xinhua news agency in late July on the revised code, it said that the focus was on the political conduct of senior cadres, including those in the 376-member Central Committee, the 25-member Politburo and the seven-member PSC.

Professor Bo Zhiyue of the Victoria University of Wellington in New Zealand said it was unusual for the CCP to openly single out top leaders as the target of a regulation.

"The sharp language was likely used to send a warning from Xi and his supporters to other top leaders that they should submit to his authority or the revised code would be used against them," Prof Bo told The Straits Times.

The closed-door meeting, which is taking place at a hotel in western Beijing, is the sixth plenary session of the Central Committee and is one of the seven plenums held in each of its five-year terms.

WARNING TO TOP LEADERS

The sharp language was likely used to send a warning from Xi and his supporters to other top leaders that they should submit to his authority or the revised code would be used against them.

PROFESSOR BO ZHIYUE of the Victoria University of Wellington in New Zealand, on a Xinhua report about the revised code, which said the focus was on the political conduct of senior cadres.

While plenums are usually predictable affairs, there is higher interest this year as it signals the start of preparations for the 19th Party Congress and could offer clues on the strength of top leaders in securing plum roles for their allies.

The sixth plenum traditionally puts up a shortlist of the new Central Committee, which will be finalised at the seventh plenum that takes place days before a party congress.

Five out of the seven PSC members - except Mr Xi and Premier Li Keqiang - and a third of the Politburo are expected to retire next year due to the unofficial age limit of 68. 

But there has been talk that Mr Xi is seeking to extend the tenure of disciplinary chief Wang Qishan, despite the latter turning 68 this July.

Analysts are also watching for signs that Mr Xi, 63, would be seeking to extend his own 10-year term, due to end in 2022.

To succeed, Mr Xi will have to use the sixth plenum to prepare an agenda for the 19th Party Congress that is in line with his wishes, said Beijing-based political analyst Francesco Sisci.

"This is why this plenum may be crucial for both Xi, and his adversaries," wrote Mr Sisci in a commentary last Wednesday.

Hong Kong-based political analyst Willy Lam said recent attacks by a pro-Beijing newspaper in Hong Kong on China's top legislator and third-ranked PSC member Zhang Dejiang over interference in the city's affairs might be aimed at strengthening Mr Xi's hand in picking future leaders.

"It is possible that the attacks on Zhang Dejiang were aimed at warning him against interfering in Xi's efforts to form the new PSC," he told The Straits Times.

But analysts have pointed out that there are signs Mr Xi might have run into resistance in applying the revised code to the top leadership.

The same phrase used in the Xinhua article in July - suggesting that the focus was on the cadres in the Central Committee, Politburo and PSC - was omitted in a separate Xinhua report following a Politburo meeting on Sept 27.

Shenzhen University analyst Ma Jingren, however, said the revised code and regulations are not fuelled by power play.

"They are part of structural reforms in the party to implement clear rules and criteria in choosing and supervising future leaders, including those at the very top," he told The Straits Times.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 24, 2016, with the headline 'China to kick off annual leadership meeting'. Print Edition | Subscribe