China opens final session of ruling Communist Party congress

The Associated Press
Attendees gather on Tiananmen Square ahead of the closing ceremony of the 20th National Congress of China’s ruling Communist Party in Beijing on Saturday.

BEIJING (AP) — A major weeklong meeting of China’s ruling Communist Party was expected to approve changes to the party constitution on Saturday that could further enhance Chinese leader Xi Jinping’s hold on power.

The closing session was underway with about 2,000 delegates in the Great Hall of the People in central Beijing.

They also will formally approve a new Central Committee of about 200 members to govern the party for the next five years. Xi is expected to retain the top spot when the new leadership of the party is unveiled Sunday.

Foreign media were not allowed into the first part of the meeting, presumably when the voting was taking place.

Police were stationed along major roads, with ight red-clad neighborhood watch workers at regular intervals in between, to keep an eye out for any potential disruptions.

An individual caught authorities by surprise last week by unfurling banners from an overpass in Beijing that called for Xi’s removal and attacked his government’s tough pandemic restrictions under a “zero-COVID” approach.

The party congress sets the nation’s agenda for the coming five years. A report read by Xi at the opening session a week ago showed a determination to stay on the current path in the face of domestic and international challenges.

Xi has emerged during his first decade in power as one of China’s most powerful leaders in modern times, rivaling Mao Zedong, who founded the communist state in 1949 and led the country for a quarter-century.

An expected third five-year term as party leader would eak an unofficial two-term limit that was instituted to try to prevent the excesses of Mao’s one-person rule, notably the tumultuous 1966-76 Cultural Revolution, under which Xi suffered as a youth.

Xi has put loyalists in key positions and taken personal charge of policy working groups. In contrast, factions within the party discussed ideas internally under his two immediate predecessors, Hu Jintao and Jiang Zemin, said Ho-fung Hung, a professor of political economy at Johns Hopkins University.

Right now, you don’t really see a lot of internal party debates about these different policies and there is only one voice there, he said.