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China sets date for party congress at which Xi will get rare third term

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China’s ruling Communist Party will on October 16 hold a high-level meeting at which President Xi Jinping is all but certain to be given an exceedingly rare third term at the helm of the world’s second-biggest economy.

The once-every-five-year congress will also likely see a partial reshuffle of the party’s supreme governing body, the seven-strong Politburo Standing Committee, even though Xi has centralized a great deal of power — crucially on economic matters — over the last decade.

This year’s meeting will also definitively mark a departure from the post-Mao era doctrine of collective leadership, designed to prevent the emergence of personal cults at the top.

The new lineup around Xi will be confirmed publicly toward the end of the week-long congress in Beijing, including who will be prime minister. The incumbent, Li Keqiang, has in recent days reiterated the need for reforms, something that has not been a key focus for Xi who prefers a statist approach to economic management.

Whether any potential successor — those who are young and loyal enough — will enter the Politburo Standing Committee to serve alongside Xi will be another focus of the congress. Five years ago, Beijing foretold Xi’s intention to stay on by both eliminating the constitutional limit of two terms and stripping two likely successors of their chance to enter the supreme body.

Internationally, foreign businesses will be eager to see whether China will loosen some of the strictest pandemic measures in the world after the congress. The prolonged restrictions have dampened business interests and occasionally disrupted supply chains, especially from the busy port of Shanghai.

Those restrictions are also putting a strain on China’s previously stellar economic growth. In July, the International Monetary Fund slashed China’s GDP growth forecast for 2022 to 3.3 percent from 4.4 percent in April, while warning of a looming crisis engulfing the country’s real estate sector, a worry that prompted the chief of China’s central bank to visit one of the worst-hit provinces, Henan, this week.

Chinese Premier Minister Li Keqiang (on the right) talks with Chinese President Xi Jinping after the opening session of the National People’s Congress at The Great Hall of People on March 5, 2017 in Beijing, China | Lintao Zhang/Getty Images

There will also be interest among observers on whether Beijing will promote another diplomat into its second-tier body, the 25-strong Politburo. The current representative, Yang Jiechi, who has played a leading role in U.S.-China relations and dealt personally with both the Trump and Biden administrations, has passed retirement age.

What is less likely to change is the deepening geopolitical course Xi has led the country on during his reign. China has positioned the U.S. as its main rival amid what it sees as the terminal decline of the West. In particular, Xi has been willing to flex its military muscles over Taiwan, staging unprecedented round-the-island drills after U.S. Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan, which Beijing sees as its own despite 70 years of de facto self-rule.

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