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China’s ruling Communist Party will hold a high-level meeting on Oct. 16 in which President Xi Jinping will almost certainly get an extremely rare third term at the helm of the world’s second-largest economy.
The congress, held once every five years, is also likely to see a partial reshuffling of the party’s top governing body, the seven-member Politburo Standing Committee, although Xi has centralized much power – exclusively on economic matters – over the past decade.
This year’s meeting will also finally mark a departure from the post-Mao era doctrine of collective leadership, designed to prevent the emergence of personal cults at the top.
The new line-up around Xi will be publicly confirmed towards the end of the week-long congress in Beijing, including who will be prime minister. Incumbent Li Keqiang has in recent days reiterated the need for reform, something that has not been a key focus for Xi, who favors a statist approach to economic management.
Whether any potential successors — those young and loyal enough — will make it into the Politburo Standing Committee to serve alongside Xi will be another focus of the congress. Five years ago, Beijing foretold Xi’s intention to stay by removing the constitutional limit of two terms and denying two likely successors their chance to enter the top body.
Internationally, foreign businesses will be eager to see whether China will loosen some of the world’s strictest pandemic measures after the congress. Prolonged restrictions have reduced business interests and sometimes disrupted supply chains, particularly from the busy port of Shanghai.
These restrictions are also putting pressure on China’s previously stellar economic growth. In July, the International Monetary Fund cut China’s 2022 GDP growth forecast to 3.3 percent from 4.4 percent in April, while warning of a looming crisis engulfing the country’s real estate sector, a concern that has the head of China’s central bank to visit one of the worst-hit provinces, Henan, this week.
There will also be interest among observers as to whether Beijing will promote another diplomat to its secondary body, the 25-member Politburo. Current representative Yang Jiechi, who played a leading role in US-China relations and dealt personally with both the Trump and Biden administrations, has passed retirement age.
What is less likely to change is the deepening geopolitical course Xi has steered the country through during his tenure. China is positioning the US as its main rival amid what it sees as the ultimate decline of the West. In particular, Xi has been ready to flex military muscle over Taiwan, staging unprecedented exercises around the island following US Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan, which Beijing sees as its own despite 70 years of de facto self-rule.