On Sunday, all eyes are on the reveal of the Communist Party’s top leadership.
The new members of the party’s Politburo Standing Committee, China’s most powerful decision-making body, will make their first appearance in the Great Hall of the People in a moment expected to confirm Xi Jinping’s likely step into a norm-breaking third term and cement his place as China’s most powerful leader in decades.
Which party members follow Xi into the hall as new committee members will reveal much about the extent of his sway within the opaque inner-working of elite party politics – and could provide clues as to whether he sees his rule extending past three terms.
Here’s what to watch:
Open seats. In recent years the standing committee has included seven members, who typically step down in accordance with an unofficial retirement age that sees those 68 and above at the time of the Congress retiring. This year, however, two additional members, 67 year-old Li Keqiang and Wang Yang, neither of whom are thought to be close Xi allies, will also step down – making room for a sweeping reshuffle that will see four new seats filled.
Allies and proteges. One strong indicator of Xi’s power will be the extent to which he is able to fill those open seats with party members in his sphere. Several proteges and allies of Xi have been flagged by watchers of elite Chinese politics as likely candidates for promotion. Those include Chongqing party chief Chen Min’er, 62, Ding Xuexiang, 60, who runs the General Office of the Communist Party, and Shanghai party chief Li Qiang, 63.
Potential successor. Experts will be watching whether there will be a young face – and potential successor – in the standing committee, which could signal whether or not Xi is aiming for a fourth term. The lack of a successor among the line-up at the last Party Congress in 2017 served as a strong signal that Xi was planning to break with recent precedent and claim a third term – a long-calculated move expected to come to fruition Sunday.
Selection process. While the new committee members and the larger 25-member Politburo of which it is a part, will be formally rubber-stamped by the party’s newly formed Central Committee, the real decisions over who fills the Party’s top spots are believed to be made in the months prior to this week’s events in closed-door discussions between top party leaders.