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Will Xi’s focus shift from corruption to economics after Congress? – China’s latest political and current affairs news


As SupChina noted in its recent explainer on the 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China, to be held starting on October 18: “Since 2002, reaching the age of 68 has meant retirement for top officials — but there is speculation, and even an expectation among many China-watchers, that this may change at the 19th Party Congress.”

If this norm is followed next month, it would mean that five of the seven most powerful politicians in China would step down, including Wang Qishan 王岐山, President Xi Jinping’s right-hand man and anti-corruption campaign leader.

Contrary to many who have posited that Wang is too important to Xi’s agenda to be sidelined, and that Xi is too authoritarian to care about silly age-related expectations, the MacroPolo initiative at the University of Chicago’s Paulson Institute has come down firmly — with 90 percent probability for two similar scenarios — on the position that retirement norms will be followed this year. The initiative’s experts assigned only a 10 percent chance to the “norm-wrecking” scenario that keeps Wang in his position, saying that “even with a very strong Xi Jinping, [this] would face significant criticism and pushback at every level of the CCP.” The analysis for Scenario 1 says:

  • “Although a recently floated trial balloon suggested that even the age limit might be up for negotiation, this appears to be nothing more than a trial balloon.”
  • Xi is likely to opt for a selection of loyalists that both accelerates the ascension of some people — such as Wang Huning 王沪宁 and Chen Min’er 陈敏尔 — faster than “soft” leadership selection norms would usually dictate, but obeys “hard” norms around term limits and retirement age.
  • That if Xi gets this selection of loyalists, his “first-term preoccupation with CCP discipline and political rectification might recede,” leading to “more attention and capacity…devoted to focusing on executing the many economic reforms that have stalled or taken a backseat to politics.” Damien Ma of the Paulson Institute has previously written (paywall) persuasively on the possibility that Xi will “pivot from China’s disrupter-in-chief to reformer-in-chief.”

In other 19th Party Congress-related news:

  • Sun Zhengcai 孙政才, the Chongqing Party boss who was ousted and put under investigation in July, has now officially been expelled from the Party and will be prosecuted for corruption, Reuters reports.
  • Beijing mayor Cai Qi 蔡奇 says that Beijing must build a “moat” (护城河 hùchénghé), or a Great Firewall within the Great Firewall, to almost completely lock down the internet in Beijing leading up to and during the congress, according to TechNode.

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Lucas Niewenhuis

Lucas Niewenhuis is an associate editor at SupChina who helps curate daily news and produce the company's newsletter, app, and website content. Previously, Lucas researched China-Africa relations at the Social Science Research Council and interned at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York. He has studied Chinese language and culture in Shanghai and Beijing, and is a graduate of the University of Michigan.