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Xi tells Communist Party to combat any actions to 'undermine' it
By Joanna CHIU, Laurent THOMET
Beijing (AFP) Oct 18, 2017

Five things to know about China's Communist congress
China's Communist Party on Wednesday opens its 19th National Congress, the most important political meeting for the past five years.

Here are five questions and answers about the opaque process, which will see major leadership changes expected to bolster President Xi Jinping's authority:

What's the meeting about?

China's Communist Party has since 1921 held 18 congresses to fill its leadership ranks. The party, which has ruled China since 1949, organises the meetings every five years.

This year, some 2,300 delegates from across the country will descend on Beijing in a highly choreographed event to pick members of the Central Committee of around 200 members.

The committee will select members for the 25-person Politburo and its all-powerful Standing Committee -- the country's highest leadership body, currently comprising just seven people.

The Standing Committee is usually unveiled the day after the end of the congress, which closes on October 24.

President Xi Jinping is expected to cruise to a second, five-year term as party general secretary, like his two immediate predecessors Hu Jintao and Jiang Zemin.

Who's on the Standing Committee?

The current Standing Committee consists of Xi, Premier Li Keqiang, Zhang Dejiang, Yu Zhengsheng, Liu Yunshan, Wang Qishan and Zhang Gaoli.

These seven men, career bureaucrats who rose through the party ranks over decades, call the shots in the world's most populous country, each getting one vote on key policy decisions.

As general secretary Xi reigns supreme, setting the agenda for their frequent secret meetings.

One other man stands out from the pack: Wang Qishan, Xi's powerful right-hand man who heads the president's sweeping anti-corruption campaign which has brought down both senior and lower-level officials.

Who's leaving?

Since 2002, Standing Committee members aged 68 or above at the time of the congress have stepped down, abiding by the unwritten retirement age first employed by Jiang Zemin to dump an ageing rival.

If the informal rule is upheld this year, five out of seven members will step down, leaving only Xi, 64, and Li, 62.

In addition to these five, another six members of the Politburo's 25 members are also due to step down.

But there is much speculation that tradition may be broken this year, with some analysts predicting that Wang Qishan will be allowed to stay on despite being 69.

Such a move would allow Xi to keep a close ally and set a precedent for he himself to remain on the committee at the next congress in 2022, when he turns 69.

Will a successor to Xi emerge?

China's constitution limits the president and premier to two five-year terms, but there are no rules for the duration of party jobs -- where the real power lies -- except a ban on "lifelong tenure".

This has heightened speculation that Xi may try to remain in some capacity after 2022, especially since no one has emerged as a clear frontrunner to succeed him.

In late September, former Politburo member and Chongqing party secretary Sun Zhengcai, once seen as a contender to succeed Xi, was expelled from the party ranks after being swept up in Xi's anti-graft campaign.

Chen Miner, who took over Sun's job in Chongqing and served as Xi's propaganda chief in Zhejiang province in the early 2000s, could now get a spot in the higher echelons of power. He is 57.

Another contender is Hu Chunhua, 54, the top official of the prosperous southern province of Guangdong.

The ultimate question is will Xi reign supreme? Many analysts expect Xi to consolidate his power at the congress, confirming his stature as China's most powerful ruler since Deng Xiaoping or even Mao Zedong. One strong indicator of his elevation into this exclusive pantheon of Chinese leaders would be if his name is added to the party's constitution.

Chinese leader Xi Jinping urged the Communist Party on Wednesday to "resolutely oppose" any actions that undermine its leadership as he opened a congress expected to enhance his already formidable power.

Xi told some 2,300 delegates at the imposing Great Hall of the People that the country was entering a "new era" as the party pursues "socialism with Chinese characteristics".

"The prospects are bright, but the challenges are also severe," said Xi, who is expected to secure a second five-year term as general secretary and stack leadership positions with loyalists during the twice-a-decade congress.

Speaking in front of a massive hammer and sickle, Xi extolled China's rising clout abroad and its fight against poverty and inequality at home, as well as his "zero tolerance" campaign against corruption within the party.

"Every one of us in the party must do more to uphold party leadership and the Chinese socialist system and resolutely oppose all statements and actions that undermine, distort or negate them," Xi said.

Considered China's most powerful leader since Deng Xiaoping or even Mao Zedong, Xi could use the congress to lay the foundation to stay atop the 89-million-strong party even longer than the normal 10 years, according to analysts.

This would break the unwritten two-term limit accepted by his immediate predecessors Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao -- who were by Xi's side at the congress -- and end the era of "collective leadership" aimed at preventing the emergence of another Mao.

Another signal of Xi's rise to the pantheon of Chinese leadership would be if his name is added to the constitution, an honour has only been bestowed upon modern China's founder, Mao, and the father of economic reforms, Deng.

A congress spokesman said the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) will amend its constitution to add Xi's "new vision and thinking" on governance, but he did not indicate whether Xi's name would also be added.

- 'Tigers and flies' -

Potential rivals have been swept aside under Xi's vast anti-corruption campaign, which punished 1.3 million Communist Party officials over five years.

Xi said the anti-graft campaign has been "unswervingly fighting against 'tigers', 'beating flies', 'hunting foxes'" -- terms used for lower and higher ranking officials.

Xi's rise has also been marked by a relentless crackdown on dissent, with authorities even refusing to free Nobel peace prize laureate Liu Xiaobo as he lay dying of cancer in July.

On the global stage, he has restructured the military, asserted China's claims to disputed seas and used the country's economic prowess to increase its influence in Asia and beyond.

He has taken up the mantle of globalisation in the face of US President Donald Trump's "America First" policy.

But foreign companies will look for signs at the congress that Xi will live up to his promises to further open up China's economy in the next five years.

- Legitimacy at risk -

Authorities stepped up policing for the week-long congress, with red armband-wearing "security volunteers" fanning out across the capital, karaoke bars closing and online kitchenware firms even suspending knife sales.

The conclave, which ends next Tuesday, will select new top party members, including in the Politburo Standing Committee, China's all-powerful ruling body.

Xi and Premier Li Keqiang are expected to remain on the committee while the five other current members are supposed to step down under an informal retirement age set at 68.

But Xi may lobby to retain his 69-year-old right-hand man Wang Qishan, who heads the leader's signature anti-graft campaign. This would create a precedent for Xi himself to remain in charge beyond retirement age in 2022.

"If Xi expresses intent to lead beyond his 10-year limit, this would be reminiscent of the Mao era, which would be damaging to Xi's legacy and call his legitimacy into question," said Simone van Nieuwenhuizen, a Sydney-based researcher and co-author of "China and the New Maoists".

But a Xi heir apparent could emerge from the congress.

One former potential successor who was outside Xi's circle, Sun Zhengcai, was ousted from the party last month due to graft allegations.

Chen Miner, a former Xi aide who succeeded Sun as political chief in the city of Chongqing, is now well positioned for promotion.

"The question is what is Xi going to do after he secures absolute power after the 19th party congress," said Hu Xingdou, a Chinese governance expert at the Beijing Institute of Technology.

"If he can lead China's modernisation, establish a modern state system, avoid the cycle of peace and upheaval of China's 2,000-year history, then we can say his influence may be bigger than Mao's."

Crackdown nation: China's shrinking civil society under Xi
Beijing (AFP) Oct 18, 2017 - Chinese President Xi Jinping has led a sweeping crackdown on civil society since taking power in 2012, targeting everyone from human rights lawyers to celebrity gossip bloggers.

Xi's enactment of regulations such as the national security law established legal bases for the government's tightening grip, formalising de facto restrictions that had long been in place.

As the Communist Party prepares to give Xi a second five-year term at a congress that opened Wednesday, here are four aspects of Chinese society that have seen clampdowns over the last five years:


China has one of the world's most restrictive mechanisms for online censorship, with Facebook, Twitter and Google among the platforms blocked by the so-called "Great Firewall."

In June, the country implemented a controversial cybersecurity law that tightens restrictions on online freedom of speech and imposes new rules on service providers, including one requiring tech companies to store user data inside the country.

In the wake of its roll-out, celebrity gossip blogs have been shut down, video streaming websites censored and social media platforms probed for "obscenity."

Online videos that did not adhere to "correct political and aesthetic standards" were ordered to be removed under regulations introduced in the same month.

Among the films, dramas and cartoons targeted by the rules were those "demonstrating 'abnormal' sexual relations or acts, such as ... homosexuality."

In the run up to the congress, the government also started cracking down on virtual private network (VPN) software that allows users to bypass the firewall.


For several days beginning on July 9, 2015, more than 200 Chinese human rights lawyers and activists were detained or questioned in a police swoop that rights groups called "unprecedented."

Many of the individuals disappeared after being taken away by police who searched their homes and seized their computers and other documents.

The "709 crackdown," as it was later dubbed, marked the largest clampdown on the legal profession in recent history.

Among those rounded up were prominent attorneys Xie Yang, Li Heping and Wang Quanzhang. All were known for representing people whom the ruling Communist Party considers "enemies of the state": democracy activists, Falun Gong practitioners and dissident scholars.

While the majority of lawyers were released on bail, a handful -- including Xie and Li -- were found convicted of various crimes and sentenced to up to seven years in prison.


The Nobel Peace laureate and dissident Liu Xiaobo died of liver cancer while in police custody this July, despite international pleas to allow him to spend his final days free and abroad.

The prominent 61-year-old democracy advocate was serving an 11-year prison sentence for "subversion" -- a charge frequently levelled against human rights defenders and Communist Party critics.

Liu's death in custody triggered rage and frustration among the Chinese dissident community, which expressed a sense of hopelessness under Xi.

Most of Liu's friends are under tight surveillance, and several supporters were detained after holding memorial services. Liu's wife, the poet Liu Xia, has been under house arrest since he won the Nobel in 2010.

In semi-autonomous Hong Kong, pro-democracy activists must also contend with an increasingly assertive Beijing. Elected pro-democracy lawmakers were ousted from the parliament, while leaders of the Umbrella Movement protest have been put in jail.

A sweeping national security law passed in July 2015 offered a vague definition of "endangering state security," opening up greater opportunities for laying state security and terrorism charges, which have seen rising prosecution in recent years.


In China's far western Xinjiang region, the mostly Muslim Uighur population has struggled with increasingly strict curbs on their faith, including bans on beards and public prayers.

The officially atheist authorities say the restrictions and heavy police presence are intended to control the spread of Islamic extremism and separatist movements, but analysts warn that Xinjiang is becoming an open air prison.

Authorities have flooded the region with tens of thousands of security personnel and placed police stations on nearly ever block. Surveillance cameras are ubiquitous in places of worship.

Meanwhile, rights groups say several Tibetan monks have died in self-immolation protests in recent months.

Efforts toward a rapprochement between the Vatican and Beijing, which have been estranged for decades, have also been stalled due to disagreements over the appointment of bishops.

Xi to tighten clutch on power at Communist conclave
Beijing (AFP) Oct 15, 2017
Chinese leader Xi Jinping is expected to tighten his grip on power at a Communist Party conclave this week, cementing his stature as the country's most dominant ruler in decades. The five-yearly congress, which opens Wednesday, will give Xi an opportunity to enhance his control over the world's second largest economy by stacking the halls of power with loyalists. The 64-year-old supremo ... read more

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