BEIJING (Reuters) – China’s 20th Congress ends this weekend with much more at stake than just President Xi Jinping’s bid to secure a historic third term as a communist To party chief.
The composition of elite party bodies, along with key phrases, will be scrutinized to determine the full extent of Xi’s campaign to become China’s most powerful leader since Mao Zedong.
Here are some of the key things analysts will be looking at at the conclusion of the five-year event in Beijing:
One of the main tasks of this week’s Congress is the appointment of the Communist Party’s Central Committee, made up of about 200 delegates, of which the 25-member Politburo forms the core.
But real power in China rests in the hands of the small Politburo standing committee – which currently has seven members – which will also be chosen this week.
Hong Kong’s South China Morning Post predicted that “up to four top positions in the Politburo Standing Committee could change hands and nearly half of the Central Committee would need to be replaced.”
“Higher turnover would mean an advantage for Xi,” said Nis Grunberg, of the Mercator Institute for China Studies (Merics) in Berlin, explaining that it would allow the Chinese leader to “promote more of his supporters of the Politburo to the Standing Committee”. Committee”.
On Saturday, the party is expected to unveil the new Central Committee, while the following day, at its first plenum, the composition of the new Politburo and its Standing Committee will be made public.
The members of this top body will be announced in order of importance, the first being the secretary general – in a process that should confirm that Xi has won a third term.
Next up – either in position two or three – will be the new prime minister, replacing retired Li Keqiang, who analysts say has not fully endorsed some of Xi’s signature policies, including zero-Covid.
Presented as possible successors are the most liberal-minded Wang Yang and Hu Chunhua, a protege of former President Hu Jintao and once cited as a potential leader of China.
But the appointment of either is unlikely to mean a factional challenge to Xi, who has diminished the role of prime minister during his 10 years in power.
“The composition of the new Politburo and its Standing Committee will provide some of the best available evidence on the political balance of power in Beijing,” said Neil Thomas, senior China analyst at Eurasia Group.
However, he added, “Xi’s incredible consolidation of power means that elite promotions are less of a balancing act between rival factions and more of a competition for loyalty within Xi’s dominant faction.” .
Four close allies are tipped to join the Standing Committee: Li Xi, party leader of Guangdong province; Ding Xuexiang, Xi’s chief of staff; and Chen Min’er, party leader in the megacity of Chongqing.
Li Qiang, party leader in Shanghai and architect of the grueling Covid lockdown that has lasted for months this year, may also be ready to be promoted to higher ranks. He is another ally of Xi.
A longtime adviser to Xi – and current number five on the Politburo Standing Committee – Wang Huning is also tipped for promotion, with the South China Morning Post reporting that he could lead Beijing’s National People’s Congress.
On the surface, Xi seems assured of securing a third term as general secretary at the helm of the party – and therefore of being confirmed as China’s president at the upcoming National People’s Congress in March.
But there could be other ways to show Xi’s near-total dominance over the party, which in recent decades had more scope for internal debate and even dissent.
Analysts and media have speculated that Xi may wish to change his title to “people’s leader” or even “party chairman”, the same one held by Mao, cementing his place in the history of China. China next to the so-called Grand Helmsman.
Another change to the party charter may also be in store.
In 2017, he incorporated a reference to “Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era”, a moniker that was added to the country’s constitution the following year.
But this time, analysts say, the party may shorten the wording to “Thought of Xi Jinping” – once again elevating its stature to that of Mao.
“As silly as it may sound, such a move would signal widespread support for Xi among the Party elite, elevating his status and ideology to the same level as Mao Zedong,” said consultancy Trivium China.

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