‘System maintenance’ — the Party Congress begins – China’s latest top news

Jeremy Goldkorn’s selection of the top stories from China on October 17, 2017. Part of the daily SupChina newsletter, a convenient package of China’s business, political, and cultural news delivered to your inbox for free. Subscribe here.

‘System maintenance’ — the Party Congress begins

As we are sending this newsletter — early morning in Beijing on October 18, 2017 — senior Chinese Communist Party leaders are preparing to formally begin their 19th Party Congress.

The capital is under security lockdown, and so is the internet. TechNode has a summary of the suspensions of delivery services, AirBnB rentals, and social media. Read below or at our website  about how WeChat and other social media services have stopped users from changing profile photos and other personal information until the end of the month. The companies say the bans are for “system maintenance” (系统维护 xìtǒng wéihù), but everyone knows that the measures are in place to ensure nothing goes wrong at the Party Congress.

  • If you still don’t know what the 19th Party Congress is, read our short explainer, which includes the bios of five people to watch. We said “five people to watch,” but we could have just said “five men.” Read about the dire state of female representation in the Chinese government in a piece by scholar Cheng Li 李成.
  • Research firm Trivium has published a much more detailed explainer about the Party Congress.
  • The South China Morning Post confirms that the congress will adjourn on Tuesday, October 24, after which the new leadership lineup will be announced.
  • Many people who have to attend Party congress meetings find it difficult to stay awake: Here is a tweeted photo of some personnel at a pre-congress press event having a snooze.
  • Bloomberg reports that “caution is spreading through China’s financial markets” in the run-up to the meetings.

The Boss

After Xi Jinping was anointed Party leader at the 18th Party Congress in 2012, opinions on what kind of leader he would become were quite varied. Rushing in with an early prediction, New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof predicted in 2013 (paywall) that under Xi, “Mao’s body will be hauled out of Tiananmen Square… and Liu Xiaobo, the Nobel Peace Prize-winning writer, will be released from prison.”

It’s unlikely that anyone would make such a prediction about the next five years of Xi’s rule, and most commenters see Xi as the authoritarian described in scholar Geremie Barmé’s 2014 piece, The Chairman of Everything.

  • In a Foreign Policy article (paywall) titled “1.3 billion people are in one man’s grip,” Victor Shih and Jude Blanchette — two astute observers of Chinese elite politics — say that although Xi has made extraordinary progress in eliminating Party cliques that oppose him, “whether he is ultimately able to achieve the elusive goal of a factionless party remains to be seen, but for now, this is Xi’s party, and we had better get used to it.”
  • Yesterday we noted Ian Johnson’s New York Times article (paywall) on Xi which says that both he and China “seem likely to keep pushing for their place in the sun” and Richard McGregor’s piece (paywall) in the Wall Street Journal which looks at Xi’s determination not to follow the Russian example of allowing “the rise of the Russian oligarchs, who snatched control of state assets and turned themselves into billionaires and pushy political players.”
  • The Wall Street Journal says (paywall) that Xi is approaching his second term with a “souring taste for markets” and heightened suspicion of the private sector.