Top cadres put finishing touches to preparations for Communist Party congress
Meeting ratifies Politburo decisions to expel 12 disgraced Central Committee members from the party
China’s ruling Communist Party wrapped up a key meeting on Saturday to complete final preparations for next week’s congress, approving its work reports and proposed amendments to the party constitution.
The four-day conclave was the last full meeting of the party’s powerful Central Committee before the 19th congress begins on Wednesday.
The congress is expected to see President Xi Jinping further strengthen his hold on power by stacking the Politburo and its Standing Committee – the country’s top decision-making bodies – with his loyalists and having his political theory enshrined in the party charter.
The 332 senior officials at the meeting discussed and approved the Central Committee’s work report for the past five years, which will be delivered by Xi at the opening of the congress.
They also approved the anti-graft watchdog’s work report – a departure from past practice where the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection directly handed its report to the congress after it was approved by its own plenum.
The officials also endorsed a draft amendment to the party constitution which will be submitted to the party congress, along with the two work reports, next week. The amendment is widely expected to see Xi’s political theory added to the party’s ever-expanding “guiding ideology”. Observers are watching to see whether Xi’s theory will be named after him, following in the footsteps of “Mao Zedong Thought” and “Deng Xiaoping Theory” and elevating him to their level of authority and status within the party.
But a communiqué released on Saturday did not provide any new clues as to what Xi’s theory will be called. It said the congress would “implement the spirit of General Secretary Xi Jinping’s series of important speeches and new concepts, new thinking and new strategies on the governance of the country” – standard wording used by the party in the lead-up to its twice-a-decade congress.
It marked a return to the script after a subtle shift by the Politburo last month, when it attributed these “new concepts, new thinking and new strategies” to “the Party Central”, instead of to Xi himself.
Chen Daoyin, an associate professor at the Shanghai University of Political Science and Law, said these changes and the vague wording was unusual.
“It seems like we won’t know how his theory will show up in the party charter until the party congress is over,” he said.
The theories of former presidents Hu Jintao and Jiang Zemin were also written into the party charter – Hu’s “Scientific Outlook on Development” and Jiang’s “Three Represents” – but they were spelled out ahead of time, minus their names, in communiqués issued after the pre-congress meetings.
The plenum meanwhile also ratified the Politburo’s earlier decisions to expel 12 disgraced Central Committee members from the party, put two others on probation and remove another from his posts.
The expelled officials include Sun Zhengcai, the former high-flying Chongqing party chief and Politburo member once seen as a contender for top leadership, and Wu Aiying, the former justice minister who stepped down from her post in February.
Sun’s shock fall from grace in July reminded many of the dramatic downfall of one of his predecessors in both Chongqing and the Politburo, Bo Xilai, five years ago, ahead of the previous party congress.
The expelled full members were replaced by 11 alternate members, including Jiangsu party chief Li Qiang, Xinhua reported.
Li, 58, was Xi’s top aide during his time in Zhejiang and is seen as a front runner for promotion to the 25-strong Politburo at the congress, which will mark the start of Xi’s second term.
Xi’s first term has seen the downfall of more full and alternate members of the Central Committee than ever before.
In all, 18 full Central Committee members and another 17 alternate members have fallen from grace since Xi took the helm in late 2012. That is more than the combined total for the four previous Central Committees.
Zhu Lijia, a professor at the Chinese Academy of Governance, said the large number of seats to be filled was unprecedented.
“In the past, when the anti-corruption drive was less severe, there were far fewer Central Committee members being brought down. So usually just two or three members had to be replaced at plenums – it was never on this scale,” he said.
Alternate members attend plenums but they do not have voting rights. They are ranked according to the number of votes they received from delegates at the last party congress in 2012 – and those at the top of the list are the first to fill full member vacancies.