China’s state media reported that the 20th CCP Congress will be on October 16 and will be a decisive meeting for leader Xi Jinping as his re-election is at stake. The date was set during a monthly meeting of the Politburo—the body that concentrates the Party’s decision-making group, state-run Xinhua news agency reported Tuesday.

This year’s congress will review the Party’s achievements and “thoroughly study international and domestic trends,” according to Xinhua.

The event will push forward a number of Xi’s flagship policies, such as “common prosperity,” referring to the supposed goal of narrowing the huge gap between rich and poor in China.

The announcement usually indicates that most internal negotiations on key positions have been completed, although there could be last-minute adjustments. Major decisions are usually made before the Congress, which is billed as a formal gathering to legitimize and communicate those decisions to the more than 2,000 CCP delegates.

The 20th Party Congress, which is held every five years, brings Xi’s future to center stage. All signs indicate that he could be re-elected as CCP General Secretary and would become the first leader in the political history of the communist regime to be re-elected to a third term. 

During the 2017 Party convention, Xi made sure to include his ideas for a possible reform of the CCP Constitution that would allow him to strengthen the basis for a third term. Months later, the reforms were approved and the Chinese leader opened the path to extending his power indefinitely.

This 20th Congress may bring important changes to the power structure of the CCP, such as a reorganization of the 7-member Politburo Standing Committee, a body that groups the top leaders and concentrates much of the power.

The Politburo Standing Committee consists of Xi, Li Keqiang, Li Zhanshu, Wang Yang, Wang Huning, Zhao Leji and Han Zheng. These senior CCP leaders held previous meetings in Beidaihe and after the meetings, Xi made public appearances at a memorial commemorating the 1948 Liaoshen Campaign, a major historical event that left the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) with a decisive advantage in the ongoing civil war with the Kuomintang Nationalists.

According to state-run Xinhua news agency, Xi praised the “superior planning and strategic vision” of Mao Zedong and other CCP leaders for winning that battle, and emphasized that the Chinese civil war between Communist and Nationalist forces was “a battle for the hearts and feelings of the people.”

Meanwhile Chinese Premier Li was in Shenzhen, one of China’s most important technology centers, in order to push for “greater economic independence.” Last March, Li told reporters that this will be his last year as premier. He took office in 2013 and is China’s second most powerful man after Xi.

Don Tse, senior researcher at political risk consultancy SinoInsider, said, “While Xi is determined to get a third term, he can’t go too far off plan when it comes to other deals in key positions.” 

Tse added, “We have said that Xi Jinping controls key positions in the Party, government, and military. But he still lacks sufficient authority, and there are many anti-Xi elements underneath. So the opposition to him is big.”

Li one of Xi’s most important supporters, was promoted by Hu Jintao and played an important role against the Jiang faction’s attacks on Xi, thus becoming more powerful and with a firm position within the Party.

However, with Xi’s advance and his consolidation within the party, Li gradually lost his power. According to Tse, “because Premier Li did not have the political clout to back up any ambitions he might have had, he would not attempt to challenge Xi’s growing authority. In this way he avoids putting himself at risk.”

According to tradition within the Party, the age of 68 is the right age to step down and retire. However, the same is not expected of Xi, who arrives at the 20th Congress at the age of 69. The lack of a designated successor to fill the post of general secretary and the propaganda flattering him as an irreplaceable leader for China make it clear that he will try to stay on until 2027 or even longer.

Meanwhile, factional fighting within the Party continues.

Is Xi’s power weakening?

After the Beidaihe meeting, speculation about Xi’s weakening power was the order of the day. However, Chinese state media gave indications to the contrary. For example, the People’s Daily, one of the regime’s leading media outlets, continued to publish news about Xi and highlight his political “achievements” over the past decade on its front page after Beidaihe. Meanwhile, Li praised “Xi Jinping’s Thought” during his August 16 video conference with top leaders from Guangdong, Jiangsu, Zhejiang, Shandong, Henan, and Sichuan.

In addition, several international media published news after Beidaihe, about Xi Jinping’s plans to travel abroad to strengthen diplomatic relations and strengthen the Asian country’s foreign policy.

The Wall Street Journal reported that officials are preparing for Xi to travel to Southeast Asia in November to attend two summits, meet with President Joe Biden in person, and visit countries in the region. In addition, CCP officials said Xi is scheduled to travel to Southeast Asia after the 20th Party Congress concludes. On August 19, the Journal reported that Xi may travel to Uzbekistan in mid-September to attend the annual summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization and meet in person with leaders such as Russia’s Vladimir Putin.

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