18th Party Congress

Chinese Communist Party's 17th Central Committee has last gathering

The last gathering of the Communist Party's 17th Central Committee takes place in a hotel in Beijing today before the 18th national congress

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 01 November, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 01 November, 2012, 7:09am

The Communist Party's elite will meet in a closed-door conclave in the capital today as the party scrambles to wrap up preparations for the once-a-decade transfer of power that will officially start next week.

Around 370 members and alternative members of the party's 17th Central Committee will gather at the Jingxi Hotel for its seventh and last plenum.

It is one of the last opportunities for the party's leaders and their successors to finalise every important detail of the party's 18th national congress, which will open next Thursday.

High-stakes decisions on personnel arrangements involved in the generational handover and on policy issues that will set the country's direction for the coming decade will top the agenda for the plenum.

It will also formally expel the disgraced former Politburo member Bo Xilai and the former railways minister Liu Zhijun from the party.

Although all the paperwork to be tabled at the party congress should be finalised and approved by the plenum, analysts said last-minute changes were still highly likely before the official announcements at the end of the party congress, which is widely expected to last for a week, although there is no official announcement yet.

According to Politburo decisions over the past two months, the official agenda of the plenum will include the approval of a keynote address to be delivered by the party's general secretary, Hu Jintao , at the opening of the congress, and a proposed change to the party constitution.

Little is known about Hu's address, his last as party chief before he hands the reins over to Xi Jinping after the party congress, or about what changes are planned for the constitution, which is commonly revised at party congresses.

Despite widespread public disaffection with political stagnation, high inflation and worsening environmental degradation, analysts said Hu was expected to hail his decade in power as a success, giving China's rise to the world's second largest economy as his main accomplishment.

Preparations for this year's leadership transition were thrown into disarray by factional rifts and horse trading, a number of scandals, including Bo's spectacular downfall, and swirling rumours about splits among incumbent leaders and influential party elders, including the former party chief Jiang Zemin .

Although the party decided to throw the book at Bo in late September after months of manoeuvring and infighting among various factions, uncertainties still surround the final composition of the next generation of leaders, who are expected to take power after the party congress. Professor Roderick MacFarquhar, a China expert at Harvard University, expressed concerns over the extent of political uncertainties over the leadership transition.

Crediting a source in Beijing for the insight, MacFarquhar said it seemed Jiang had outwitted Hu in the top picks for the Politburo Standing Committee, while Hu has outwitted Jiang in the military's personnel changes.

Despite the talk of harmony ahead of the party congress, MacFarquhar and other analysts also point to apparent disunity in the top leadership in the wake of the country's worst political crisis in decades, triggered by the sacking of Bo, once a front runner for the Politburo Standing Committee.

Both Bo and Liu, a former central committee member, are facing criminal prosecution.

Two alternate central committee members are expected to be elected as full members at the plenum as their replacements, even though their terms may last only a few days. More than half the members of the party's central committee will be replaced at the party congress.

Zhang Lifan , a Beijing-based political analyst, said that amid intense rumours and the party's culture of secrecy, the confusion over the leadership transition had also been complicated by a more politically aware public and the power of popular social networking sites such as Sina Weibo.