What is the plenum, and how important is it?

A Chinese flag flutters at the Tiananmen Square in Beijing, on Oct 25, 2019. PHOTO: REUTERS

BEIJING • The elite Central Committee of China's ruling Communist Party started a closed-door meeting yesterday to set major policies for the year ahead and beyond. It is also probably discussing crises ranging from the protests in Hong Kong to the trade war with Washington.

Formally, the plenum is to discuss improving governance and "perfecting" the country's socialist system, but the four days of talks will see other topics raised as well.


The meeting is the fourth time that China's roughly 370-person Central Committee has gathered since the 2017 party congress, which ushered in President Xi Jinping's second five-year term in office as party and military chief.

The committee is the largest of the party's top decision-making bodies, and its plenums typically take place once a year.

To prevent leaks, attendees are confined to the venue for the duration of the meeting. Little, if any, news of the proceedings is made public until it closes. Foreign media and most Chinese reporters are not permitted any access.

On the day the plenum ends, the official Xinhua news agency will issue a long dispatch with details of what was agreed to.

Past plenums have been held under tight security at the Soviet-era Jingxi Hotel in western Beijing.

There has been an unusually long gap since the last plenum in February last year.

They normally happen in the autumn, but one did not take place then last year amid speculation about disagreement over policy among the senior leadership.


After party congresses, which are held once every five years, plenums are the most important gathering of the senior leadership in one place.

The mood at plenums can vary greatly, depending on the agenda.

A watershed conclave in 1978 overseen by Deng Xiaoping kickstarted China's economic reforms, beginning the transformation of the world's most populous nation from a centrally planned backwater to an economic powerhouse.

At the plenum in February last year, the party approved a plan to remove presidential term limits, meaning Mr Xi could stay in office until he dies. That change was formally signed off at last year's meeting of China's largely rubber-stamp Parliament.

At a plenum in 2013, China unwrapped its boldest set of economic and social reforms in nearly three decades, relaxing its one-child policy and further freeing up markets to put the world's second-largest economy on a more stable footing.


Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 29, 2019, with the headline What is the plenum, and how important is it?. Subscribe