By Malcolm Moore What is a Communist Party Congress? The 18th National Congress of the Communist
Party of China will gather more than 2,200 delegates from across the country in
Beijing to discuss the party's policies. Promotions and demotions have been a feature of
party congresses in the past, and in 2002 the event was used as a platform to
unveil a new leadership. This year, a similar transition is due to take place.
In China, the Congress is known simply as the
"big meeting", or just by the Chinese character "Da", which
means "Big". This year is the "18th Da".
How often do they take place?
Since Chairman Mao's death in 1977, the meetings
have taken place once every five years.
The current practice is to tee up prospective
leaders during odd-numbered congresses and then announce them during
What happens during the Congress?
What happens during the Congress is a mystery.
Apart from the opening and closing addresses, everything takes place behind
closed doors. In addition, most if not all of the big decisions have been
ironed out well in advance, as the Party's leaders jockey for position.
Two things can be counted on. There will be very
long speeches –sometimes running to a somniferous 70 pages – and, at the very
end, the Politburo Standing Committee will walk onto the dais in order of seniority.
This year, the top seven leaders are expected to
be Xi Jinping, Li Keqiang, Yu Zhengsheng, Zhang Gaoli, Zhang Dejiang, Li
Yuanchao and Wang Qishan.
How does the Congress work?
Local congresses have been held in each of
China's provinces and autonomous regions (such as Tibet and Xinjiang) and have
selected representatives to send to Beijing.
No more than 68 per cent of the delegates may
hold leadership positions within the party. The remaining 32 per cent should be
"grassroots" party members who hold jobs outside of the party apparatus.
In 2007, at the 17th Congress, the Central
Committee had 155 members from the provinces, 125 from the central government
in Beijing and 64 from the People's Liberation Army.
The Congress will choose who sits on the
200-person Central Committee, and who its 180 or so alternate members will be.
It also chooses the 25-man Politburo and the Politburo Standing Committee,
which could shrink back to seven men again this year. In practice, all of the decisions are made not by delegates but by the
previous generation(s) of leaders and are handed down and rubber-stamped during
the meeting. Which generation of leaders have we reached?
Taking Chairman Mao as the first generation of
the Chinese leadership, the new leaders will be the fifth generation, the first
to be born during the Communist era.
They come from a variety of backgrounds, but are
generally more experienced in governance, having served in various parts of the
administration, and are more educated. Unlike the fourth generation of engineers
and economists, many of the new generation are social scientists. A
disproportionate number are also "princelings," the children of
former Communist leaders.
Four out of the six contenders for Politburo
Standing Committee places are princelings, who have risen to power under the
wings of their parents and through networks of connections inside the Party. Who's in, who's out?
This year will see a dramatic upheaval. Out of
the 25 man Politburo, 14 are due to retire. In the Politburo Standing
Committee, seven out of nine are due to step down.
Many places should also go to the forthcoming
"sixth generation" of leaders, who may include Hu Chunhua, Sun
Zhengcai and Zhou Qiang. At the same time, around 70 per cent of the leaders of
the Central Military Commission, the party arm that runs the People's
Liberation Army, are due to stand down, as is a similar
proportion of the executive committee of the State Council, China's cabinet,
making this year a hugely important transition.
While the new leadership will be unveiled at
this Congress, however, they will not take the reins until next year's National
People's Congress. What happens to Hu Jintao and Wen Jiabao?
Hu Jintao has moved to consolidate his network
of power in the run-up to his official retirement, filling the commanding
heights of Chinese politics with his proteges.
Both Deng Xiaoping and Jiang Zemin wielded
enormous power and influence over China after they retired, and Mr Hu may be
hoping to follow their example. Mr Wen's position is less clear. He has used
his final year in office to repeatedly press for reform instead of hustling for
position. What are the key issues for the next generation
During the last ten years, Hu and Wen have
focused on building the Chinese economy and maintaining stability, rather than
carrying out any risky reforms. While the Chinese media is already trumpeting
their leadership as a "golden decade", many observers have
consequently tagged it a "lost decade".
The new generation of leaders, then, will
inherit many of the same problems that Hu and Wen faced when they came to power
in 2002 – a growing gap between rich and poor and between the cities and the countryside,
the continuing inequality created by the "hukou", or household
registration system, an inefficient financial system, an unfair legal system,
an underfunded welfare system, institutional corruption and a range of vested
interests within the Party preventing serious reforms, to name a few. What is the difference between the National
Congress and the National People's Congress?
Not to be confused with the National Congress,
which is an internal Communist party boondoggle, the National People's Congress
is technically a meeting of China's "parliament", with nearly 3,000 members
gathering in Beijing in March to vote on new legislation. All legislation is always passed, and the NPC is
little more than a grand rubber-stamp.
The NPC takes place at the same time as the
Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, a meeting of prominent
Chinese who are not Communist Party members, and who act as an advisory body.
The two meetings together are usually called just that: The Two Meetings. How does the Chinese government work?
All three branches of the government are
controlled by the Communist Party, as is the fourth estate. According to the
Chinese constitution, the state operates "under the leadership of the
Aside from a few symbolic exceptions, every
senior government official is a party member. However, there is also a powerful
Communist Party apparatus, with several departments outranking mere government ministries.
These include the Organisation Department,
responsible for managing the Party's personnel, the Publicity Department,
responsible for propaganda and censorship, and the United Front Department,
which handles relations with overseas Chinese, Hong Kong, Macau, Taiwan and Tibet.
In addition, the Party runs China's vast state sector,
all religious institutions, think tanks and NGOs, and even some private
NOTE— Malclm Moore is
the Beijing based correspondent for The Telegraph
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