Updated Oct 16, 2022 - World

Xi opens historic China Party Congress that's expected to cement his rule

China's President Xi Jinping opens the 20th Chinese Communist Party Congress. Photo: Noel Celis/AFP via Getty Images

China's President Xi Jinping opens the 20th Chinese Communist Party Congress. Photo: Noel Celis/AFP via Getty Images

A meeting of top Chinese Communist Party elites, held only once every five years, began Sunday in Beijing.

Why it matters: The gathered leaders at the 20th Party congress are expected to select Chinese President Xi Jinping for a precedent-defying third term as Party leader, meaning his authoritarianism and assertive foreign policies are likely to continue for at least another five years.

  • Xi is expected to be reconfirmed as president in March.

What he's saying: Xi painted a picture of a rising China facing a challenging future, and emphasized that security was key to the country's success.

  • He mentioned the word "security" about 50 times in the speech and said that the country was facing "dangerous storms" —  a reference to growing geopolitical rivalry with the U.S. and other democracies.
  • Xi praised the crackdown on Hong Kong and doubled down on unification with Taiwan, stating that, “The wheels of history are rolling on towards China’s reunification and the rejuvenation of the Chinese nation."

Details: About 2,300 top Party members are attending the meeting, where important political appointments and committee memberships for the next five years will be decided.

  • Party congresses feature highly choreographed public events and speeches, as well as closed-door meetings.
  • But delegates arrived at a consensus on the most important decisions prior to the congress, where the outcomes will merely be formalized.

The intrigue: Party leaders typically try to minimize domestic problems and tamp down on dissent in the months leading up to Party congresses, in order to avoid providing fodder for their opponents in internal power struggles.

  • But the past few months have seen China's economic growth plummet due to strict zero-COVID policies championed by Xi.
  • In a rare protest that went viral online and was swiftly censored, someone hung a banner from a bridge in Beijing demanding an end to COVID lockdowns and even calling for Xi to be removed.

What to watch: Besides the big announcement of Xi's third term and other appointments, the congress is expected to pass a revision to the Party's constitution — likely to further enshrine Xi's status as the country's paramount leader, perhaps even as "party chairman," a term not used since Mao Zedong ruled China as a dictator.

  • If the congress adopts the title "party chairman" for Xi, that “would open the door for a broader disintegration of China’s political system back into full-blown one-man rule,” Carl Minzner told The Guardian.
  • “If that happens, it raises the spectre that all the abominable policy failures that inevitably accompany such a shift — whether those that China itself experienced under Mao during the Cultural Revolution, or that Russia today is witnessing under Putin — could repeat themselves.”

Go deeper: What China looks like after a decade of Xi Jinping's rule

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