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Chinese Communist Party Congress set to begin, with a focus on Xi

Oct. 17, 2017

The Chinese Communist Party begins its National Congress on Wednesday. Delegates attending this year's edition will approve the policies and elect the people who will lead China over the next five years.

But experts say this year's congress will be about one man: Xi Jinping.

President Xi sits at the helm of the ruling party as General Secretary and will be seeking to tighten his grip on power.

Since being chosen as Communist Party Leader five years ago, Xi has established himself as one of the most influential leaders in the country's history. His guiding principles are set to be written into the party's constitution at the congress. This was done in the past with the ideologies of Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping.

The congress is scheduled to run for a week. 2,300 delegates from across China are gathering at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing.

Behind closed doors, the delegates will elect the powerful 200-member Central Committee. The Committee then elects the top members, known as the Politburo. A handful of Politburo members will be chosen this year.

As the congress draws closer, security is being tightened. Subway riders face long waits to get through security checkpoints. Self-serve gas stations have been temporarily closed as a precaution against possible terrorist attacks. The atmosphere is tense.

Xi has presided over a series of domestic reforms, while flexing his muscle on the world stage. NHK World's Momo Oono reported on the man in focus at the congress.

Since being chosen as the Communist Party leader in 2012, Xi has become all-powerful in China. He holds the top jobs in the party, the military and the state.

Xi frequently refers to his slogan, "the Chinese Dream".

"The Chinese people are pursuing a dream," he said in a speech, "to realize our nation's rejuvenation."

Xi won support by calling for reform and strengthening the nation's defense.

During his first term, he has taken a hardline stance in the South China Sea, where China has constructed artificial islands for military purposes.

On the economic front, Xi has been working to increase China's clout. His "One Belt, One Road" initiative aims to build a vast economic zone linking Asia and Europe via land and sea.

He also spearheaded the creation of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank.

Domestically, he has pressed ahead with an anti-corruption campaign that cracks down on people from all levels of society. Top leaders, as well as their potential replacements, have been caught and detained.

Information control has helped to stabilize the leadership. A law took effect this year censoring online communications in certain regions. Human rights and pro-democracy activities are being closely monitored.

The Communist Party likes what it sees in Xi, last year choosing him as its "core leader", an elevated position.

The 64-year-old career politician keeps trusted confidants by his side, granting them key posts in his administration.

He enjoys a strong power base, something he will be working to consolidate as he eyes the start of another 5-year term.

Ke Long, a senior fellow at the Fujitsu Research Institute and an expert on the Chinese economy and politics, talked to Hideki Nakayama about how Xi will handle the economic and social aspects of the world's most populous country.

Nakayama: Looking back on these five years, how do you evaluate Xi Jinping?

Ke: "I think, politically, the administration performed very successfully, especially about the anti-corruption activity. But economically, I think the Chinese economy is now just coming into a slowdown.

Mao Zedong's thought impacted Xi Jinping very strongly. So, maybe he wants to strengthen control of the economy. But if they want to control the economy, then that will mean they will slow down economic development. So this is a dilemma for the Xi Jinping administration.

If the SOE, state owned enterprises, are protected by the government, then they will, we will not strengthen innovation. That will mean China will experience another lost decade in the coming years.

Nakayama: About Xi Jinping, consolidating his power, how do you think the people are looking at this?

Ke: I think 70% of Chinese people still expect the old China, or have strong leader like an emperor in China, like a Mao Zedong.

But at least 30% of the people were educated by western education. For example, they believe in democracy, freedom. If China wants to realize democracy and freedom, it will take 20 or 30 years. But before that, we'll experience a lot of difficulties for the Chinese people.

Nakayama: What can we expect in this Communist Party Congress? Do you think that there will be any changes to the Communist Party?

Ke: A little, I think. We cannot expect that a country like China—such a big country—can change in one night or in one day. But they will change a little.

I think Xi just wants to change some of the rules. For example, to let Wang Qishan come to be the leader continuously. Then, they must change the rules. Okay, they changed the rules, but they must get support from the members. And so I just want to emphasize the point of the rules.