Making Sense of China’s Nineteenth Party Congress

Introduction

China’s highest-ranking Communist Party members will gather in Beijing beginning October 18 for the Nineteenth Party Congress. The meeting takes place five years since Xi Jinping took the helm of China’s leadership and comes amid a rigorous crackdown on party corruption. While preparations for the congress have been shrouded in secrecy, the event will be closely watched for any changes to the governing system of the world’s second-largest economy and one of its largest militaries.

What is a party congress?

Since the establishment of the People’s Republic of China in 1949, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has been the dominant decision-making body, providing direction and guidance to the State Council, the administrative authority of the country. The party’s national congress, held every five years in Beijing, is the central event for announcing official leadership transitions. The Eighteenth Party Congress, in 2012, solidified Xi Jinping’s ascent to power.

The most pressing question is whether Xi will name a successor.

At the gathering, more than two thousand party delegates will appoint the party’s general secretary, as well as senior leaders to bodies that oversee economic and security functions, as well as party rules, including:

  • the party’s Central Committee,
  • the Central Military Commission (the command and control organ of China’s military services),
  • the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection (the party’s antigraft watchdog),
  •  the Politburo (typically comprising twenty-five officials from China’s most important cities and provinces), and
  • the Politburo Standing Committee (the most powerful decision-making body, currently comprising seven members).

The congress also approves long-term goals, including new reforms and changes to the constitution. During the week-long congress, the general secretary presents a political work report, briefing delegates on progress made since…

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