The leaders of the world’s most powerful political party gather in Beijing on Monday for a conclave that could change the course of Chinese history.
In meetings at the exclusive Jinxi Hotel, safe from the public’s prying eyes, nearly 400 top members of the Chinese Communist Party will confer for four days, discussing changes to how the giant party will be managed.
The meeting, according to the official Xinhua News service, will focus on the issue of “party discipline”.
The dry rhetoric hides what may be a ferocious, high-stakes battle for control over the world’s second largest economy.
The Sixth Plenum, as the meeting is known, comes as the party — which has more than 88 million members — faces a period of tectonic change.
Since taking its helm in 2012, General Secretary Xi Jinping has sought to bend it to his will, and taken control of more levers of power than any leader since Mao Zedong.
And his anti-corruption campaign has laid waste to the party’s organisational chart, felling seemingly invincible bastions of power such as former security czar Zhou Yongkang, and paralysing lesser bureaucrats across the nation with fear.
Xi has described the party as a “magic weapon” that can be used to implement reforms necessary to achieve his goal of the “Great Rejuvenation” of the Chinese nation, an idea that he frequently describes as the “Chinese dream”.
But attempts to rein in sclerotic state-owned enterprises — which control strategic sectors of the economy and are sources of patronage for powerful politicians — have met stiff resistance from entrenched interests.
“These reforms have really gone nowhere over the last three years,” said Anthony Saich, an expert on Chinese politics at Harvard University.
“Clearly, Xi sees the party as the only vehicle that can push ahead with reforms. He does not trust society or the state to move ahead with the reforms he wants.”
At the meeting, he added, “there will be jockeying between those who enjoy Xi’s support and those who are negatively affected by the campaign against corruption and by the potential for further reforms of the state-owned sector”.
For Xi, improving party discipline means more than simply reducing cadres’ bad behaviour.
“He has been very ambitious in grabbing power, in arrogating powers to himself,” said Willy Lam, a China expert at the Chinese University of Hong Kong.
The “major motivation” of any new rules passed during the plenum will be to “consolidate (Xi’s) position as the big boss”, he said.