BEIJING (AP) — China will open a bi-decade party conference on Sunday, at which leader Xi Jinping is expected to receive a third five-year term that breaks recent precedent and establishes itself as arguably the most powerful Chinese politician since Mao Zedong.
Xi is expected to deliver a lengthy speech at the opening session, but little change is foreseen in his formula of strict one-party rule, intolerance to criticism and a crackdown on COVID-19, including quarantines and travel bans, even as other countries have opened up.
As with most Chinese political events, little information has been released in advance and the outcome of the congress will only be announced after several days of closed-door sessions. How much has been decided in advance and how much still needs to be worked out in face-to-face meetings also remains unknown.
At a two-hour press conference on Saturday, Congress spokesman Sun Yeli reaffirmed the government’s commitment to its “zero-COVID” policy despite the economic cost, and reiterated its threat to use force to annex self-governing Taiwan. .
But Sun gave few details about any changes to the party’s charter during the meeting, which is expected to last about a week. The congress is the 20th in the history of the ancient feast, which has some 96 million members, more than 2,000 of whom will attend the Beijing meetings.
The changes will include “key theoretical views and strategic thinking” completed in the five years since the last congress, said Sun, a deputy head of the Chinese Communist Party’s Propaganda Department who is not well known outside party circles. is.
The change or amendments will “meet new requirements for advancing the development and work of the Party in the face of new circumstances and new tasks,” Sun said.
Xi has left little room for further political glorification as he has held himself thoroughly responsible for internal affairs, foreign policy, the military, the economy and most other important matters overseen by party working groups he leads.
Congress is coming as Chinese economy faces major headwinds amid a near collapse of the real estate industry and the toll on retail and manufacturing imposed by COVID-19 restrictions that ramped up the regime’s already intense monitoring of the population and suppression of free speech.
In his comments, Sun said China would do everything it could to bring Taiwan under its control peacefully. But he said China would not tolerate what he called a move to full independence, backed by hardliners on the island and their foreign backers – believed to be the US, Taiwan’s main source of military and diplomatic support, despite its lack of formal respectful relations. . to Beijing.
Sun also offered no hope that China would shy away from “zero COVID,” which Xi and other leaders have made a political issue despite criticism from the World Health Organization and others that it is not a practical long-term solution given improvements in vaccines and therapies.
Many expect the policy to continue at least until March, after which Xi is expected to serve his third term as president and other top cabinet leaders installed.
While Xi faces no open opposition, his farewell to the party’s former collegiate leadership style to concentrate power into his own hands is causing unrest among the public and party officials, said political observer and dissident Yin Weihong, who was repeatedly harassed by police over its opposition positions. .
“There is a sense that he has taken a pie that has been formally divided among several and decided that he will have it all to himself,” Yin said in a telephone conversation from his home south of Shanghai.
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