Are we agreed? Party seminar seeks unity of thought among China’s senior ranks

Beijing event crucial to building consensus ahead of five-yearly party congress, observers say

PUBLISHED : Friday, 28 July, 2017, 9:44pm
UPDATED : Friday, 28 July, 2017, 11:02pm

The two-day seminar for senior officials from China’s Communist Party that concluded on Thursday in Beijing was crucial to building consensus ahead of their five-yearly congress this autumn, observers said.

According to Xiakedao, the social media account run by the overseas edition of People’s Daily, the event, which was held at the military-run Jingxi Hotel, was “the most important high-level meeting before the 19th party congress”.

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“Convening all senior officials for a meeting undoubtedly has the clear intention of unifying thoughts,” it said.

Senior officials, of minister level and above, from across the party, government and military, took part in the meeting, which opened with a speech by President Xi Jinping. Many of those in attendance will vote in the ballot for the party’s next central leadership at the upcoming congress.

The session also came just days after it was announced that ex-Chongqing party chief Sun Zhengcai – who sits on the Politburo, China’s top leadership body – had been put under investigation for “serious party discipline violations” – a common euphemism for corruption.

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Johnny Lau Yui-siu, a veteran China-watcher based in Hong Kong, said the seminars were important internal briefings at which the senior leader could present his vision for both the party congress and the five years beyond.

“The things [he] lays out there must be core issues. As you might have noticed on [state broadcaster] CCTV, none of the officials were given any pens or paper. They were not supposed to make notes and had to learn things by heart, because what was said in that internal briefing was not supposed to be made public yet,” Lau said.

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“Such briefings are held before important events, such as a leadership reshuffle, to unite these most powerful people and their thinking, to seek consensus ... They will have to elect the 19th Central Committee according to the current central leadership’s intention,” he said.

During the time of Xi’s predecessor Hu Jintao, such occasions were also used to conduct informal straw polls for party elites to show their preferences for Politburo candidates ahead of the leadership reshuffle.

Three months before the 17th party congress in 2007, which concluded Hu’s first term as the party’s secretary general, about 400 senior officials convened at the Central Party School in Beijing for a seminar similar to the one called by Xi this week.

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Xinhua reported later that each attendee was given a sheet of paper containing a list of nearly 200 candidates for the Politburo and asked to indicate their preferred choices.

Similarly, in May 2012, ahead of the 18th party congress, about 370 full and alternate members of the Central Committee were called to Beijing for an internal poll of the Politburo candidates.

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Lau, however, said it was unclear if the same process had been followed this year.

“I have so far not heard of a straw poll being conducted at the seminar, or being planned for the coming days,” he said.