Briefing

What happened at the 20th National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party?

The meeting happens twice a decade, but this one was more eventful than usual

In October, leaders of China's Communist Party (CCP) gathered for the twice-a-decade National Congress. During the event, China took a number of unprecedented steps culminating with President Xi Jinping being granted a third term, making him the most powerful Chinese ruler since Mao Zedong, founder of the People's Republic of China, reports Reuters. Here's everything you need to know:

What is the National Congress of the CCP?

The National Congress began convening in the 1970s and has met every five years since in order to choose new leadership and make changes to the governing charter if necessary, explains The Wall Street Journal. The most recent meeting is the 20th convening since the Communist Party was founded in 1921. 

The CCP Congress began after Mao Zedong's rule in order to ensure timely leadership changes preventing another Mao-style dictatorship in the country. The meeting consolidates close to 2,300 delegates of the Communist Party to elect a new Central Committee, which makes up the top leadership of the party and includes around 200 members as well as alternates. The Committee has the power to elect the General Secretary, members of the Politburo (the highest policy-making body), and its Standing Committee, as well as the Central Military Commission. 

This year, the National Congress was more eventful than those in the past because it broke a number of precedents.

What are the highlights of this year's Congress?

Here are some of the major takeaways from this year's meeting:

Hidden figures

Early in the Congress, China announced that it would be delaying the release of its third-quarter economic statistics, including GDP. The announcement led many to believe that the data would show worse results than expected given the country's economic struggles over the last couple of years. Historically, countries have rarely delayed releasing statistics because it tends to indicate a weak economy and cause distrust amongst investors. 

Despite saying the delay was indefinite, China unexpectedly released the data the Monday after the end of the CCP Congress, The Washington Post reports. The National Bureau of Statistics reported that the GDP grew 3.9 percent between July and September of this year, which, while higher than expected, is still below the government's annual target of 5.5 percent. 

Leadership let-downs

During the session, the CCP approved its new Central Committee, which excluded two big names: Premier Li Keqiang and Vice Premier Wang Yang, reports NPR. Li was famously the country's number two official and Wang was rumored to be Li's successor. Analysts say that neither person was particularly close to President Xi Jinping, and their removal allows for the upper echelon of leadership to be made up only of allies. Li in particular was in favor of market-based economic reforms, which go against Xi's goal of expanding state control over the economy, The Associated Press explains. 

Li and Wang are among four of the seven members of the Politburo Standing Committee, the highest level of the CCP, who were excluded from the new Central Committee. Only members of the Central Committee can be on the Standing Committee, putting an end to either person holding leadership within the CCP. 

Round three

Perhaps the biggest outcome of this year's convening was Xi Jinping awarding himself a third term as leader of the Communist Party. He was unanimously voted in, which was an expected result given that term limits were removed from the Chinese constitution in 2018. With the unprecedented third term, there is speculation that Xi will attempt to remain in his position for life, BBC notes. 

This has caused some protests within China, starting with the former general secretary of the CCP, Hu Jintao, who needed to be escorted out of the meeting hall after he cast his vote for the Central Committee. An anti-Xi banner was also briefly seen in Beijing before promptly being taken down, reports CNN. The occurrence caused a censorship ramp-up in the country. 

Tying down Taiwan

The Congress formally approved an amendment to the governing charter to "resolutely oppose and suppress Taiwan independence," Taiwan News reports. In a speech Xi made at the start of the conference, he remarked that he "will never promise to renounce the use of force and [will] reserve the option of taking all measures necessary" to take control of the island.

As a result, U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken warned that Beijing is "on a much faster timeline" for pursuing reunification with Taiwan, which was previously not expected to happen until 2027 according to experts. 

Politburo prejudice

On Sunday, China announced its new Politburo, made up of 25 members of the CCP who oversee the rest of the party, and for the first time in 25 years, it does not include a single woman. For the next five years, the country will be ruled by a group made up entirely of men, marking a major setback in gender representation, Bloomberg reports. Xi himself has said in the past that women should "shoulder the responsibilities of taking care of the old and young, as well as educating children," despite pledging to stay committed to gender equality. 

The seven-member Standing Committee was also announced and includes four newcomers. All of those appointed have close ties and affiliations to Xi, Reuters reports.

What's next for China?

With Xi claiming a third term, there is likely to be more global tension between China and the west. Xi has shown no signs of removing the zero-COVID policy, which has caused economic problems for China. He also continues to create tension by laying claim to the entire South China Sea as well as refusing to condemn Russian President Vladimir Putin's actions in Ukraine, AP explains. Taiwan also faces a great threat as Xi has made clear that he will never recognize its independence. 

Also, since the country no longer has term limits, Xi may attempt to extend his term for as long as possible, leading to a dictatorial regime like Mao Zedong's. This also counteracts the purpose of the CCP Congress to begin with. 

"Our country has entered a period when strategic opportunity coexists with risks and challenges," Xi said in a speech to the Congress. "[T]he world has entered a period of turbulence and transformation."

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