Asia Pacific / Politics

What is China's Communist Party plenum?

Reuters

The elite Central Committee of China’s ruling Communist Party will hold a closed-door meeting from Monday to Thursday to set the major policies for the year ahead and beyond, and will probably discuss crises ranging from Hong Kong to the trade war with Washington.

Formally, the plenum is to discuss improving governance and “perfecting” the country’s socialist system, but during the four days of talks other topics are bound to be raised as well.

What is a plenum?

China’s Central Committee is the largest of the party’s top decision-making bodies, and its plenums are gatherings that typically take place once a year.

This year’s meeting is the fourth time that the roughly 370-person committee has gathered since the 2017 party congress, which ushered in President Xi Jinping’s second five-year term in office as party and military chief.

To prevent leaks, plenum attendees are traditionally confined to the venue for the duration of the meeting.

Little, if any, news of the proceedings is made public until it closes. Foreign media and most Chinese reporters are given no access.

On the day the plenum ends, the official Xinhua news agency will issue a long dispatch with details of what was agreed. In order to portray party unity, there will be no mention of any disagreements.

Past plenums have been held under tight security at the Soviet-era Jingxi Hotel in western Beijing.

There has been an unusually long gap since the last plenum, held in February 2018. They normally happen in the autumn, but one did not take place at that time last year amid speculation about disagreement over policy among the senior leadership.

How significant are plenums?

After party congresses, which are held once every five years, plenums are the most important gathering of the senior leadership in one place.

The mood at plenums can vary greatly, depending on the agenda. A watershed conclave in 1978 overseen by Deng Xiaoping kickstarted China’s economic reforms, beginning the transformation of the world’s most populous nation from a centrally planned backwater to an economic powerhouse.

At a plenum in 2013, China unwrapped its boldest set of economic and social reforms in nearly three decades, relaxing its one-child policy and further freeing up markets to put the world’s second-largest economy on a more stable footing.

At the February 2018 plenum, the party approved a plan to remove limits on presidential terms, meaning Xi could stay in office until he dies. That change was formally signed off in last year’s meeting of China’s largely rubber stamp parliament.

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