China wraps up 20th Party Congress with Xi set to become most powerful leader in decades

Chinese national flags flutter on the Great Hall of the People on October 16.

For more than two decades, a new general secretary has been appointed at every other Communist Party Congress.

But since the last Congress in 2017, Xi Jinping has signaled plans to keep a firm grip on all aspects of what’s considered a trifecta of power in China: control over the party, the state and the military.

At the last Congress in 2017, he broke with tradition and did not elevate a potential successor to the Standing Committee.

Then, months later, China’s rubber-stamp legislature eliminated the term limits for President of China. This was widely seen as enabling Xi to continue to a third term as head of state, while also retaining his control of the Communist Party – where the true power lies.

While there are no formal term limits for general secretary, staying in the top party role would also require Xi to break with another unwritten rule: the party’s informal age limit.

Abandoning term limits: The norm is that senior officials who are 68 or older at the time of the Congress will retire. At 69, Xi would flout this recent convention by staying in power.

What’s less clear is whether he will seek to give other Politburo allies exemptions, disrupting one of the few neutral methods the party has to ensure turnover, or whether, in contrast, he could lower the retirement age for others to oust some existing members.

Changing the constitution: Xi is also expected to strengthen his legacy, likely through amendments to the party constitution — a regular feature of each Congress.

Last month, the Politburo discussed these changes during a scheduled meeting, according to a government statement that did not include specifics.

In 2017, Xi became the first leader since Mao Zedong — Communist China’s founder — to have his philosophy added to the constitution while still in power. Oservers have suggested Xi’s key principles could be further enshrined this time around.

These details will be signs of how much power Xi holds within the upper echelons of the party – and how strong his backing is as he steps into his expected, norm-breaking third term leading one of the world’s most powerful countries.

Read the full explainer here.