Xi Jinping Gives Early Warning for Important Plenum Meeting

July 27, 2016 Updated: August 2, 2016

News Analysis

The political obedience of top Chinese Communist Party cadres is on the agenda for a key meeting of elite cadres later this year. The meeting agenda and the early timing of the announcement, when viewed in context of recent political moves by regime leader Xi Jinping, foreshadows the removal of high-level Party officials in the near future.

On July 26, a Politburo meeting chaired by Xi decided that the 6th Plenary Session of the 18th Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party will address the “major issue of strictly governing the Party,” and the updating of two existing Party regulations on cadre discipline, according to state mouthpiece Xinhua.

It was also agreed upon at the Politburo meeting that “leading organs and leading cadres at all levels, and crucially those high-level cadres in the Central Committee, the Politburo, and the Politburo Standing Committee,” have to “reinforce and normalize their political life within the Party.” Xi had made similar comments at two earlier meetings.

Party plenums are attended by the 376-member Central Committee, which nominally elects the leadership. (In reality, candidates are decided through an obscure and hard fought political process.) Major policies and key personnel are usually announced during these plenums, which occur over several days in October.

The 6th Plenum agenda announcement has come unusually early—in the last five years, the news is normally relayed between 10 days to a fortnight of the meeting.

In 2014, however, Xi fixed the talking points for the Fourth Plenum on July 29. Later that night, state media reported that former security czar and Politburo Standing Committee member Zhou Yongkang was investigated for corruption.

Zhou’s arrest shocked many because it was widely assumed that the Party had prohibitions against the purging of former and current Politburo Standing Committee members.

Since taking power in late 2012, Xi has been consolidating his control over the regime by ousting the rival political network overseen by Party elder and former Chinese leader Jiang Zemin through an anti-corruption campaign.

Signs of what analysts have called a “life and death struggle” between Xi and Jiang have boiled to the surface recently.

In official speeches published this year, Xi warned about cadres forming “cliques and cabals” to “wreck and split” the Party. And Jiang loyalist and propaganda head Liu Yunshan appears to have presided over several recent efforts by the propaganda apparatus to discredit Xi.

The early announcement and the substance of the 6th Plenum’s agenda, however, suggests that the balance of power is tipping in Xi’s favor.

Normally, Party elders like Jiang Zemin wield outsize influence in deciding on the topics for discussion at plenary sessions; this process usually takes place around an unofficial but vital meeting in August, called the Beidaihe meeting. The latest news indicates that Xi is forging ahead with his own agenda for October.

It is unclear whether the Beidaihe meeting will actually be held this year. Deutsche Welle Chinese recently reported that it would not.

The Party discipline issues to be discussed in October, coupled with a new Party regulation aimed at holding top cadres accountable for their misbehaving subordinates, could pave the way for Xi to remove Jiang’s remaining loyalists in top office, and eventually deal with Jiang himself.

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