Chinese communists’ big meeting: What it is, what it’ll do

From October 18, over 2,200 delegates will meet in Beijing at the CPC’s 5-yearly National Congress that is likely to further cement President Xi’s power.

Written by Apurva | Updated: October 17, 2017 12:01 pm
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The 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China (CPC) will convene on Wednesday at the Great Hall of The People in Beijing, and is likely to continue for a week. The Congress, which is held once every five years, elects the next pool of political leaders in China, including the powerful Central Committee, the Politburo and Politburo Standing Committee. Xi Jinping was elected general secretary of the CPC at the 18th National Congress held in November 2012. The National People’s Congress (which is China’s “Parliament”, with nearly 3,000 members, and which should not be confused with the CPC National Congress) appointed Xi the President of the People’s Republic of China in March 2013.

So, what is the CPC National Congress (NC), the big party meeting that begins on October 18?

The NC is technically the highest decisionmaking body in the CPC, in that it elects members to the Politburo, the Central Committee, the Standing Committee, and the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection (CCDI), the country’s top anti-corruption body. Most decisions are, however, made prior to the actual meeting. The NC can (and has, in the past) amended the CPC constitution, and will debate policies fundamental to China’s development in the future. President Xi Jinping will present a report on the party’s performance over the last five years. In general, however, the NC is more about structuring the CPC’s ideology rather than announcing changes in economic or foreign policy.

Who will attend the NC?

NC delegates are elected from CPC committees across China where local congresses were held this year. At the 19th Congress, 2,287 elected delegates will represent 89 million members of the CPC — that’s about one delegate for every 40,000 CPC members. The NC is attended by not just the provincial delegates and senior party leaders, but also CPC members from minority ethnic groups, women, and delegates from the fields of economy, science and technology, national defence, politics, the judiciary, education, publicity, culture, healthcare, sports and social management. Xi Jinping was elected as an NC delegate by a unanimous vote at the 12th CPC Guizhou provincial congress in April.

Since when has the CPC been holding its National Congresses?

The first NC was held in Shanghai in July 1921, where just 12 delegates, including Mao Zedong, represented 60 members. Ten more NCs were held at unequal intervals until 1977; from 1982 onward, it has been convened every five years. However, the NC can be convened even before the scheduled date if the Central Committee deems it necessary, or at the request of more than a third of the provincial-level organisations. Except under extraordinary circumstances, the Congress cannot be postponed.

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What kind of decisions does the National Congress take?

Some of the most important decisions in China’s political history have been taken during the National Congress. The 12th NC in 1982 aimed to eliminate the “negative effects of the chaos of the Cultural Revolution”, and Deng Xiaoping put forward the idea of building socialism with Chinese characteristics — triggering the opening up of China and the beginning of its reform era. In 2002, at the 16th Congress, the CPC constitution was amended to establish the “Deng Xiaoping Theory” as the CPC’s guiding ideology. This NC also decided that entrepreneurs would be permitted to become party members.

What is the hierarchy in the CPC?

While the NC is the highest decisionmaking body, it is convened only once every five years. When the National Congress is not in session, the Central Committee carries out its decisions and represents the Communist Party of China. At the 2012 NC, 205 members of the Central Committee were elected along with 171 Alternate Members. The total number of members in the Central Committee is usually below 400. The Political Bureau or Politburo (25 members), the Standing Committee of the Politburo (between five and nine members) and the General Secretary of the Central Committee of the Party are elected by the Central Committee at the plenary session. The Standing Committee takes decisions on a day-to-day basis. The NC also elects the CCDI of the CPC.

Why is this upcoming NC important?

With the CPC preparing for its centenary celebration in 2021, the party is working hard to finish building what it terms “a moderately prosperous society”. The NC will also witness a reshuffling of top leaders as President Xi consolidates power. The crackdown against corruption within the CPC is expected to intensify. Since Xi rose to power, CCDI, the anti-graft body, has investigated 240 senior officials, and at least 1.14 million party members and cadres at or below township level have been punished.

The NC will also “thoroughly examine the current international and domestic situation”, and “draw out guidelines and policies that respond to the call of the times”, according to a statement from the CPC. An amendment to the CPC constitution is expected, which would further cement President Xi’s position as the CPC’s “core leader”.

Apurva is currently on a media fellowship programme in China under the China Public Diplomacy Association.

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