The 20th National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), which opened on 16 October, is likely to be an important event not only for the future of the CCP and the future of China, but also for the future of the Asia-Pacific region and probably for the future of the entire world. This is because whoever emerges victorious from the Party Congress will determine where China is going in the next five years politically, economically, socially, and diplomatically.
Two Possibilities and Four Scenarios
Despite the media hype on just one outcome before the start of the Party Congress, I believe there are two major possibilities and four different scenarios.
One possibility is that Xi Jinping, the incumbent General Secretary and Central Military Commission (CMC) Chairman of the CCP, will stay in power for the next five years. One scenario is that he would get re-elected as General Secretary and CMC Chairman of the CCP for a third term. But this scenario is far from being certain at this moment. To secure a third term as General Secretary and CMC Chairman of the CCP, Xi would have to find justifications that he somehow is exempt from the basic norms of the CCP for the past two decades, which include age limits and term limits. With no exceptions in the past 20 years, all members of the Politburo and its Standing Committee have retired from the Politburo at the Party Congress when they were 68 years old and above. Born on 15 June 1953, Xi just turned 69 on 15 June 2022, one year above the retirement age of 68. Article 6 of the “Interim Provisions on the Term of Office of Leading Party and Government Cadres” issued by the General Office of the Central Committee of the CCP on 6 August 2006 explicitly stipulates that no one is allowed to serve for more than two consecutive terms in the same position. “Party and government leading cadres who have served in the same position for two consecutive terms are no longer recommended, nominated, or appointed to hold the same position,” the regulations say. Since Xi has completed his two terms by October 2022, he is no longer eligible for being “recommended, nominated, or appointed” to hold the same positions.
In a second scenario, Xi revises the CCP Constitution and creates a new position for himself: Party Chairman. Through this revision, Xi would get himself promoted to this new position and would be able to work for at least another 10 years of two consecutive terms.
The second possibility is that Xi will retire. A third scenario is that he will retire completely. Since he has reached his retirement age and completed his two consecutive terms as General Secretary and CMC Chairman of the CCP, he could retire from both positions at the 20th Party Congress. Consequently, he would relinquish his positions as President and CMC Chairman of the People’s Republic of China in March 2023.
In a fourth scenario, Xi retires partially. He would step down as General Secretary of the CCP, but stay on as the CMC Chairman of the CCP at the Party Congress and would probably stay on as President and CMC Chairman of the PRC in March 2023.
Two Policy Options
What policy China adopts as a result of the Party Congress, obviously, depends on the outcome of the Party Congress. If Xi stays in power, many of his current policies would continue. For the Party Congress has effectively vindicated his policies, domestic and international. Consequently, China would continue its close cooperation with Russia and get ready to confront the United States technologically, economically, and militarily. The Asia-Pacific region has to be alert for signs of potential hot spots of conflicts and confrontations.
If somehow Xi is being replaced as the top leader of the Party, the new leader might have a different set of priorities. The new leader may want to distance himself from Russian President Putin and mend China’s relations with the United States, US allies in the Asia-Pacific region, and in the world.
In my view, it is still too early to predict the outcome of the Party Congress with certainty. There is still some chance that Xi will be replaced. If not, then we would have to prepare for the worst. Let us wait and see.
About the Author
Professor Bo Zhiyue, Ph.D., is founder and president of the Bo Zhiyue China Institute, a consulting firm providing services to government leaders and CEOs of multinational corporations, and an author of a tetralogy on China’s elite politics: Chinese Provincial Leaders: Economic Performance and Political Mobility since 1949 (2002/2019), China’s Elite Politics: Political Transition and Power Balancing (2007), China’s Elite Politics: Governance and Democratization (2010), and China’s Political Dynamics under Xi Jinping (2017).
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Image: The 18th Chinese Communist Party Congress held in the Great Hall of the People, Beijing, November 2012. Remko Tanis.