18th Party Congress
The Chinese Communist Party's 18th Congress, held in Beijing November 8-14, 2012, marked a key power transition in China. A new generation of leaders, headed by Xi Jinping and Li Keqiang, took over from the previous leadership headed by Hu Jintao. The Communist Party's Politburo Standing Committee was reduced in number from nine to seven. Unlike his predecessor Jiang Zemin, Hu Jintao handed over both the Party General Secretary and Chairman of the Central Military Commission positions to Xi.
Party's silence over 18th congress dates is deafening
With the world in the dark over dates for the 18th congress and leadership handover, speculation over party divisions is growing
They say no news is good news. But that may not be the case on the mainland now, as people eagerly await an announcement of the date of the crucial Communist Party congress against a backdrop of political uncertainty.
In line with precedent, current and retired leaders should have finalised every important detail of the 18th party congress at their summit, which ended in mid-August.
A Politburo meeting should then have been held around the middle of this month to announce the date of the last party plenum of the 17th party Central Committee, at which paperwork for the congress would have been finalised. The party congress should convene a few days after the last annual plenary session.
But so far the world is in the dark as the government has been silent on the timing of events, despite leaders having wrapped up their weeks-long gathering at Beidaihe, a seaside resort near Beijing.
Some analysts have speculated that the delays have been due to disagreement among leaders.
Joseph Cheng Yu-shek, a professor of political science at the City University of Hong Kong, said the conclusion of matters relating to Bo Xilai, the former Chongqing party boss and Politburo member, who until his fall from grace this year was a hot candidate for promotion, was a prerequisite for the party congress dates to be ruled on.
"Certainly, the leadership should have concluded Bo's case before they can go ahead with the congress procedures," Cheng said.
Mainland courts have completed the charges and given verdicts on Gu Kailai , Bo's wife, and several police officers in relation to the murder of British businessman Neil Heywood, which triggered the worst political scandal in decades. The Intermediate People's Court in Chengdu will announce the verdict on Wang Lijun, Bo's close associate and ex-police chief today, paving the way for Bo himself to be dealt with.
Alice Miller, a research fellow at Stanford University's Hoover Institution, said that going on past procedures, a Politburo meeting, probably late last month, should have set a date for the 17th Central Committee's seventh plenum and proposed a date for the 18th congress.
A Politburo meeting held on September 17, 2007, made the decision to convene the pre-congress seventh plenum of the 16th Central Committee on October 9 in order for matters relating to the 17th party congress, which opened on October 15, to be finalised.
The lack of any announcements has fuelled speculation over disagreement among leaders.
"Issues like Vice-President Xi Jinping's health, disagreement among party factions over the personnel changes and major policies might cause the delay of the gathering," Cheng said, adding that the leadership should have reached a consensus on Bo's case by now.
Hu Xingdou, a political commentator from the Beijing Institute of Technology, said the party should make its congress more transparent and announce its date as early as possible to prevent wild speculation. "The earlier the announcement [of the date] is made, the better for the party and the country," said Hu.
However, Cheng said it would not be deemed abnormal if the congress convened in October or early November.
Just as the last pre-congress plenum of the 16th Central Committee made a decision on the fate of Chen Liangyu, Shanghai's sacked party boss, and hammered out the new leadership line-up ahead of the 17th congress, it is expected the plenum will make a decision on Bo.
But analysts are divided as to whether the former high-flying politician and princeling will face criminal charges over his possible involvement in the murder, or receive more lenient disciplinary action. Miller, who also teaches Chinese politics at Stanford's Department of Political Science, said the party congress would have three tasks: setting broad guidelines for the party's upcoming work, revising the party constitution, and changing its top leadership.
The chief mission of the congress is to elect a new Central Committee and a new Central Commission for Discipline Inspection. The day after the party congress closes, the new Central Committee convenes its first plenum, the sole function of which is to appoint a new party leadership. These appointments include a new Politburo and its Standing Committee, a new Central Military Commission and a new Secretariat, the party's nerve centre, as well as the heads of the party's central departments.
While it is unknown whether there will be any amendments made to the party's constitution, Miller cited the 16th party congress in 2002, which revised the constitution to incorporate former party chief Jiang Zemin's "three represents" and the 17th party congress in 2007 revised the constitution's preamble to incorporate the "scientific development concept" advanced by current party chief Hu Jintao as a further contribution to the ideological foundations.
Cheng Li, a Chinese leadership expert at the Brookings Institute and director of the John L. Thornton China Centre at Brookings, said the large-scale leadership overhaul expected at the 18th party congress and the intensity of ideological disputes, made this upcoming political succession a particularly challenging one for the party.
"While turnover in personnel is understandably the central focus of the party congress, the communiqués and resolutions approved at the meeting, especially the formal report delivered by outgoing General Secretary Hu Jintao, will determine the party's ideological tone, overall political direction, specific socioeconomic policies, and approach to foreign relations for years to come," Cheng wrote in a recent essay titled "Preparing For the 18th Party Congress: Procedures and Mechanisms".
It was published by Stanford University's journal China Leadership Monitor.