BEIJING -- China’s ruling Communist Party is holding its twice-a-decade national congress starting Sunday, at which Xi Jinping is expected to receive a third five-year term as the uncontested head of the party, government and military of the world’s second-largest economy.
The proceedings surrounding the event are shrouded in secrecy, as is typical in China’s authoritarian one-party state. But the weeklong congress, the 20th in its more than 100-year history, is expected to produce a new set of leaders handpicked by Xi, who faces no term limits and has yet to indicate a successor after a decade in the top spot.
The 96 million-member party is led by a Central Committee and Politburo. Their top cadres, who now number seven, form the powerful Politburo Standing Committee.
WHAT IS AT STAKE AT THIS YEAR'S MEETING?
No significant changes to the political or economic system are expected. Using a wide-ranging anti-corruption campaign and relentless crackdown on dissidents and free speech, Xi has eliminated virtually all opposition and placed loyalists in most of the key positions.
Yet his hard-line “zero-COVID" policy that has placed tens of millions under quarantine, severely restricted travel and imposed a growing economic cost has sparked rare protests, including the appearance of anti-Xi banners in Beijing's high-tech business district of Haidian this week.
Authorities refused to comment on the incident and shut down all discussion about it on the internet — the only sphere of public life where criticism of the regime is possible, at least until party censors move in.
Xi's administration says such tight COVID-19 controls are the only way to prevent a wider outbreak in the world's most populous nation.
HOW WILL THE CONGRESS AFFECT CHINA GLOBALLY?
China's more assertive foreign policy, sometimes described as the “wolf warrior" approach based on the name of a popular action film, has prompted a backlash from the U.S., Europe and regional neighbors. China's claim to virtually the entire South China Sea has raised tensions with fellow claimants, the U.S. and others, while its forces have clashed with Indian troops along their disputed border.
Beijing's close alignment of its foreign policy with Russia and refusal to criticize Moscow's invasion of Ukraine have also heightened tensions with the West.
That's also focused attention on China's threat to invade the self-governing island democracy of Taiwan to bring it under its control, a move that would draw in the U.S. and allies such as Japan and Australia.
Xi has shown no sign of a change in foreign policy direction, although China's sharply reduced economic growth rate and challenges facing his signature “Belt and Road" foreign investment program are seen as reducing his leverage. The internment of more than 1 million Muslim minorities in Xinjiang and the quashing of opposition voices and free speech in Hong Kong have also drawn broad criticism abroad, placing many local leaders under U.S., U.K. and EU travel and financial restrictions.
WHO IS REPRESENTED AT THE CONGRESS?
State media report that 2,296 representatives were “elected” to the congress. All candidates are carefully vetted and no open campaigning is allowed. Of those, 771 are described as frontline party members who hold jobs outside of the party bureaucracy, either in the armed forces, which functions as the party's military branch, or in agriculture or technical professions.
The party and the congress's makeup remain heavily dominated by men from China's main Han ethnic group. Women and members of minority groups account for 27% and 11.5% of representatives respectively, according to the official state news agency, Xinhua.
Following what is expected to be a lengthy policy address Sunday, the congress will be conducted mainly behind closed doors.
If past protocols are followed, the new leadership will be unveiled the day after the congress closes, with is highest-ranking members emerging from behind a curtain to take their places in the hierarchy based on their distance to the left and right of Xi.
This story has been corrected to say that the new leadership will likely be unveiled the day after the close of the congress, not at the closing session.