China’s Communist Party opens high-ranking meeting ahead of congress

China’s Communist Party opens high-ranking meeting ahead of congress
President Xi is likely to retain his right-hand man, the graft-buster Wang Qishan (picture), even though he has reached retirement age. Photo: Reuters

China’s Communist Party opens high-ranking meeting ahead of congress

BEIJING — China’s Communist Party opened on Wednesday (Oct 11) a meeting of senior members to make final arrangements for its twice-a-decade congress due to start next week.

The plenary session of the ruling party’s Central Committee is expected to run for around four days, during which high-ranking members are expected to endorse a draft amendment to the party constitution that will help leader Xi Jinping further consolidate his power.

The party has already decided that the constitution will be revised during the congress to include Mr Xi’s political thoughts. But it remains unclear how Mr Xi’s political ideas will be added to the charter, with the focus on whether the incorporation will carry his name.

If Mr Xi’s name is enshrined in the constitution, unlike his two immediate predecessors Hu Jintao and Jiang Zemin, his status in the party will be regarded as akin to that of Mao Zedong or Deng Xiaoping.

Among other agenda items, the seventh plenary session of the current Central Committee will also discuss a draft work report to be delivered by Mr Xi at the congress, which will start next Wednesday and choose China’s top leadership for the next five years.

The opening of the plenary session was confirmed by China’s official media. Security was very tight around a Beijing hotel, the venue of the closed-door gathering, in the morning.

The forthcoming reshuffle will most likely bring many allies of Mr Xi to key positions.

Mr Xi is also likely to retain his right-hand man, the graft-buster Wang Qishan, even though he has reached retirement age, according to a majority of people with ties to the leadership interviewed by Reuters.

The fate of the 69-year-old Wang, who keeps a low public profile but is often described as China’s second most powerful politician, has been a source of intense speculation ahead of the party congress.

Twelve of the 16 people with ties to China’s leadership, including former officials as well as relatives, aides and close friends of current and former senior officials, said Mr Wang was likely to retain a leadership role.

They said it was unclear what Mr Wang’s title would be and whether he would remain on the powerful seven-member Politburo Standing Committee. The other four said he would probably step down.

Under one scenario, Mr Wang would become one of two vice chairmen of the National Security Commission, set up in 2013 to increase coordination among the branches of China’s security bureaucracy and headed by Mr Xi, three of the sources said.

Alternatively, he could become vice chairman of the Communist Party itself, if Mr Xi resurrects the party chairmanship position, they said.

Under other scenarios, Mr Wang could become premier - replacing Li Keqiang, a role that traditionally includes management of the economy, or head of parliament.

“He will most likely stay on in some form, maintaining a position of power. He’s important to Xi,” said Zhang Lifan, a Beijing-based political commentator and historian.

“Xi has shown he is willing to break with precedent before and he’ll probably do it again with the ‘seven up, eight down’ rule for Wang,” he added, referring to the unwritten rule that officials cannot be promoted when they reach the age of 68.

The party signalled last year that the rule was not binding. However, deferring retirement would raise questions about whether Mr Xi, 64, would himself use that as precedent to retain his roles as party and military chief beyond completion of the traditional two five-year terms.

Regardless of title, Mr Wang’s next role may include a remit that extends to management of China’s economy, whose growth is imperilled by heavy debt and inefficient state enterprises.

“Wang Qishan has a very strong economic policy voice. I could entirely see a circumstance under which he’s given another role that brought that out more,” said Duncan Innes-Ker, regional director for Asia for the Economist Intelligence Unit.

Mr Xi has already become China’s most powerful leader in decades, despite having few trusted allies by his side when he rose to the top post of the party in 2012.

Over the course of his first term, Mr Xi has succeeded in sidelining his political rivals through a nationwide anti-corruption campaign.

The plenary session is expected to also approve the decisions made by the Political Bureau of the committee to expel “corrupt” members from the party, including Sun Zhengcai, once considered a contender for China’s top leadership, in the reshuffle.

Late last month, the party announced a long list of misdeeds by Sun, who was until recently party boss of Chongqing, a megacity in southwest China, ranging from receiving a huge amount of money in return for benefiting others to leaking secrets and exchanging power for sex.

On the last day of the session, the party is expected to issue a communique summary through the country’s state media. AGENCIES