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China's Communist Party begins key Congress amid stir against zero Covid policy

By KJM Varma
October 16, 2022 09:14 IST
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China's ruling Communist Party on Sunday began its week-long key Congress in Beijing during which President Xi Jinping is widely expected to get endorsed for a record third five-year term, breaking the over three-decade norm for top leaders to step down after a 10-year tenure.

IMAGE: Chinese President Xi Jinping attends the opening ceremony of the 20th National Congress of the Communist Party of China, in Beijing, China, October 16, 2022. Photograph: Thomas Peter/Reuters

Except for 69-year-old Xi, all top officials including the number two leader in the Chinese leadership hierarchy Premier Li Keqiang will be replaced in the massive reshuffle to follow during the week.


The 20th National Congress of the Communist Party of China, in which 2,296 "elected" delegates under the norms and guidelines set by Xi will attend a closed-door meeting, is being held amid a rare protest against Xi and his rigid zero-COVID policy of widespread restrictions and lockdowns, resulting in the slowdown of the world's second-largest economy.

The Congress will be held from October 16 to 22, spokesperson for the Congress Sun Yeli told a press conference here on Saturday.

Xi is due to present his work report to the Congress on Sunday.

Ahead of the once-in-a-five-year conclave, photos circulating on social media on Thursday showed banners hung on overpasses of a major thoroughfare in the northwest of the Chinese capital, protesting against Xi's unpopular zero-Covid policy and authoritarian rule.

Banners displayed on a bridge in the district of Haidian, home to universities and tech firms in Beijing, read: "Food, not Covid test; reform, not a cultural revolution; freedom, not lockdowns; votes, not a leader; dignity, not lies; citizens, not slaves."

Following the incident, security, which is already tight in Beijing, has been further beefed up.

Besides concerns and disquiet over the growing unemployment in the country, which climbed to a record 19 per cent, observers say discontent is brewing in the party over Xi's massive anti-corruption crackdown against officials in the last 10 years in which lakhs of officials, including top brass of the military, were punished.

From day one after assuming power in 2012, Xi has launched a ruthless campaign against corruption, which besides striking a chord with people also helped him systematically weed out political opponents.

At home, there is also concern over the US and the EU increasingly turning hostile against China besides neighbouring countries India and Japan over Beijing's military might and belligerent rhetoric over its sovereignty claims.

The Congress is also being closely watched at home and abroad for its leadership changes and the much-expected continuation of Xi for an unprecedented third term, and perhaps for life.

Since the death of party founder Mao Zedong in 1976, successive leaders of the party followed a rule that the party will have a leadership transition at the top and provincial levels every 10 years to ensure collective leadership principle and to prevent the emergence of a one-leader dominated system to avert mass violent campaigns like Mao's Cultural Revolution in which millions were exterminated.

To facilitate Xi's continuation in power, China's Constitution has already been amended in 2018 by National People's Congress (NPC), the country's parliament, removing two five-year tenures for the President.

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KJM Varma in Beijing