Is China’s Communist Party united under Xi? Duration of congress may provide the answer, experts say

Possible inclusion of general secretary’s ideology into constitution might also influence meeting’s length

PUBLISHED : Friday, 01 September, 2017, 6:10pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 12 October, 2017, 6:17pm

China has named October 18 as the start date for its 19th party congress, but how long the five-yearly event lasts may well be an indication of the level of unity President Xi Jinping has managed to achieve, an analyst said on Friday.

While Xi is fully expected to retain his position as the general secretary for a second five-year term, other positions on the top tables of power have yet to be finalised, and whether or not the Chinese leader’s own political philosophy is added to the party constitution remains a matter for debate.

Date set for China’s most important political event: the Communist Party congress

Chen Daoyin, a political scientist at Shanghai University of Political Science and Law, said he would not be surprised if the meeting lasted a day or two longer than usual, as the personnel reshuffles at the provincial level over the past year have made it difficult to predict who will secure the elite jobs.

“There are obviously many different power groups inside the party, and therefore we must watch to see if Xi has settled all the struggles before the meeting starts,” he said.

If he has not, there will be “fierce discussion that is likely to lengthen the meeting”, he added.

“The longer the meeting lasts, the more likely people are going to doubt Xi’s ability to unite the party. Therefore, no matter how fierce the debate has been behind closed doors, Xi will want to present an image of a strong and stable leadership by keeping the meeting to the traditional length.”

While the duration of the congress – of about 2,300 delegates – is never stated at its outset, the past four have all lasted seven days.

Guess who’s not invited to China’s key Communist Party congress

Veteran China-watcher Johnny Lau Yui-siu said predictions on the duration of the meeting, which will be the final plenary session under Xi’s first term, would be easier to make as the start date drew closer.

“It will be much clearer by that time as the top leaders should have finalised the agenda and all of the personnel arrangements,” he said. “Everything will be more certain.”

However, he said there was a possibility of the meeting running for more than seven days, if Xi took longer than expected to sway or overcome those who stood against him.

Reading between the lines of Xi Jinping’s political philosophy

While the precise agenda for the congress is unknown, it is expected to open with a lengthy political report by Xi outlining the party’s core goals and policies for the next term. These are then likely to be discussed and debated by party members in smaller groups over the following two or three days.

The congress is expected then to continue with the election of the 200-plus members of the Central Committee, who in turn will vote on the party’s most senior positions, including those of the general secretary and the seven seats on the Politburo Standing Committee.