Chinese President Xi Jinping expected to be even more formidable after Oct Party congress

China's President Xi Jinping attends a welcoming ceremony for Tajikistan's President Emomali Rahmon outside the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China on Aug 31, 2017.
China's President Xi Jinping attends a welcoming ceremony for Tajikistan's President Emomali Rahmon outside the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China on Aug 31, 2017.PHOTO: REUTERS

BEIJING (NYTIMES) - Chinese President Xi Jinping is expected to be confirmed for a second five-year term at a leadership reshuffle next month, a closely watched meeting that is seen as a test of Mr Xi's power.

About 2,300 delegates, including senior officials, will meet in Beijing on Oct 18 for the once-every-five years party congress. Besides confirming Mr Xi, they are expected to appoint a new cohort of officials under him.

Mr Xi, already one of the most influential Chinese leaders in decades, is likely to emerge from the meeting even more formidable. As president, he has reasserted China's power in Asia, restructured the military and led a relentless anti-corruption campaign that has ensnared scores of low-level officials and political enemies.

Now, Mr Xi is poised to win an even broader mandate for his policies and authoritarian style by stacking the party's most influential bodies with close allies. He may also defy the standard script and lay the groundwork for extending his tenure by delaying the designation of a successor.

"He's large and in charge," said senior adviser Christopher Johnson at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.

Mr Johnson said Mr Xi's performance at the congress would have more than just domestic implications. It is also likely to determine Chinese policy towards the United States at a time of increasing friction over issues such as trade and North Korea's nuclear programme, he said.

 

"If Xi has a big win in the congress, I think that gives him full freedom of action to manage the relationship how he chooses," Mr Johnson said, with options including being more obstinate in the face of demands from President Donald Trump.

At the congress, at least 11 of the 25 members of the Politburo are expected to retire, unless an informal rule requiring members to step down if they are 68 or older at the time of the congress is relaxed. That includes five of the seven members of the even more powerful Politburo Standing Committee.

Party congresses usually last 10 days. But details must first be approved by a meeting of the party's Central Committee, which brings together hundreds of senior officials. The congress will elect a new Central Committee, which in turn will anoint the new leadership.

Mr Xi is likely to present his new lineup publicly at the end of the congress.

The congress will select only party positions. The new government lineup will be appointed by a meeting of the legislature, called the National People's Congress, which is likely to convene in March. Mr Xi is then almost certain to be reappointed state president, and Mr Li Keqiang appears likely to win another term as premier.

In the months leading up to the congress, Mr Xi has shown a willingness to rework the rules of elite succession politics and to further consolidate his power. In July, for example, the party dismissed Mr Sun Zhengcai, a fast-rising politician in Sichuan province who had once been considered on track for a national post, and placed him under investigation.

Mr Xi already holds more titles than many of his predecessors. He is general secretary of the Communist Party, chairman of the central military commission, and he is known as China's core leader, a vague but powerful status that puts him on a pedestal with past leaders Mao Zedong, Deng Xiaoping and Jiang Zemin.

At the congress, Mr Xi is likely to press to enshrine his ideology in the party's constitution, helping to solidify his legacy, analysts say. News reports on Thursday hinted that Mr Xi may get his wish.

Xinhua, the official news agency, reported that the "spirit of General Secretary Xi Jinping's series of important speeches" would be among the guiding ideas at the congress, alongside those of former leaders including Mr Mao and Mr Deng.

"That would be a fairly strong sign to the party that this is collective governance of one, and that all eyes should be looking to Xi Jinping," said Mr Jude Blanchette, a researcher at The Conference Board in Beijing who studies Chinese politics.

Still, Mr Blanchette added, having more allies in crucial positions could leave Mr Xi vulnerable to criticism if the Chinese economy underperforms or if a foreign policy crisis breaks out. "The buck stops with him whether he wants it or not," he said.