The expected coronation for Supreme Leader of China Xi Jinping It’s officially underway, as the ruling Communist Party holds a week-long meeting to glorify its first decade in power – and usher in a potentially new era of strongman rule.
Amid tight security, mounting restrictions from the Covid virus, and a state of propaganda and censorship, the party kicked off its most important national congress in decades in Beijing on Sunday morning.
In the Twentieth Party CongressXi, who took power in 2012, is preparing to secure a third term as party general secretary, in breach of recent precedent and paving the way for a possible life sentence.
The expected appointment will cement the 69-year-old’s status as China’s most powerful leader since late Chairman Mao Zedong, who ruled China until his death at the age of 82. It will also have a profound impact on the world, as Xi doubles down on a firm stance. The foreign policy of strengthening China’s international influence and rewriting the US-led world order.
In the heart of the Chinese capital, nearly 2,300 hand-picked party delegates from across the country gathered in the Great Hall of the People for this highly-designed event.
Sitting in neat rows with face masks, they wait for Xi to present a lengthy work report that will assess the party’s achievements over the past five years and set broad outlines of his policy priorities for the next five years.
Watchers will be watching closely for any signs of the party’s policy direction when it comes to its uncompromising zero-Covid-19 policy, dealing with severe economic challenges, and the stated goal of “reunification” with Taiwan – an autonomous democracy that Beijing claims as its own. Although never in control.
Meetings will mostly take place behind closed doors throughout the week. When delegates reappear at the end of the convention next Saturday, they will hold a ceremonial vote to sign Xi’s work report and approve changes to the party’s constitution — which could give Xi new titles to bolster his power.
The delegates will also choose the new Central Committee of the Party, which will hold its first meeting the day after the appointment of the party’s top leadership – the Politburo and its Standing Committee, after decisions already put forward behind the scenes by party leaders before the congress.
The conference will be a major political victory moment for Xi, but it also comes during a period of potential crisis. Xi’s insistence on a relentless no-COVID policy has fueled growing public frustration and stunted economic growth. Meanwhile, diplomatically, his Friendship Without Borders With Russian President Vladimir Putin, Beijing’s relations with the West soured after Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine.
In the lead-up to the conference, officials across China have dramatically escalated restrictions to prevent an outbreak of the Covid virus, imposing sweeping lockdowns and increasingly frequent mass Covid tests on a handful of cases. However, infections caused by the highly contagious omicron variant continued to flare up. On Saturday, China reported nearly 1,200 infections, including 14 in Beijing.
Public anger towards Zero Covid surfaced on Thursday in An exceptionally rare protest against Xi in Beijing. Online pictures showed a banner being raised on a crowded bridge denouncing Xi and his policies, before police removed them.
Say no to Covid testing, yes to food. No to lockdown, yes to freedom. No to lies, yes to dignity. No to cultural revolution, yes to reform. No to the great leader, yes to voting. One of the signs says: ‘Don’t be a slave, be a citizen’.
“Strike out, drive out the dictator and nationalist traitor Xi Jinping,” the other wrote.
Chinese public opinion has paid little attention to party congresses in the past – they have no say in adjusting the country’s leadership, or making major policies. But this year, many have pinned their hopes on Congress to be a turning point for China to soften its policy on Covid.
However, a series of recent articles in the party’s mouthpiece suggest that this may be wishful thinking. People’s Daily hailed Zero Covid as the “best option” for the country, insisting that it is “sustainable and must be followed.”
On Saturday, on the eve of the conference, party spokesman Sun Yi said at a press conference that China’s COVID measures ensured a low rate of infections and deaths in the country, and enabled “sustainable and stable operations of the economy and society.”
“Taking into account everything, China’s epidemic prevention measures are the most economical and effective,” Sun said.
“Our prevention and control strategies and procedures will become more scientific, more accurate and effective,” he said. “We firmly believe that dawn is before us, and perseverance is victory.”