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Mar. 10, 2015 - Updated 04:16 UTC

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Chinese Communist Party's 19th National Congress begins

Oct. 18, 2017

China's Communist Party kicked off its crucial meeting on Wednesday morning. Most of the party's powerful 7-member Standing Committee is expected to be replaced. But President Xi Jinping is almost certain to stay on top of the power pyramid.

Xi delivered a long-winded opening speech to renew his commitment to realize modernized socialism. "We'll strengthen anti-corruption regulations and make sure they're wide ranging, with zero tolerance. With our strong determination in fighting the tigers, killing the flies, and capturing the foxes, we've achieved our initial target of deterring corruption while tightening the net and building a prevention wall. The anti-corruption battle has started showing great success and is progressing steadily," he said.

Xi highlighted the success of his government during his first 5 years as leader, lifting more than 60 million people out of poverty. He said he will accelerate building sea power, referring to aggressive maritime activities in the East and South China Seas. But he acknowledged there are still economic challenges the nation faces.

Close attention is being paid to whether Xi's ideology will be added to the Party Constitution under his name. The current document only includes ideologies carrying the names of 2 former leaders -- Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping.

Red banners with Xi's slogans are easy to spot throughout Beijing. They even appear in the redeveloped district alongside luxury stores. Electronic bulletin boards usually used for corporate ads now display the Communist Party's slogans. Phrases that promote Xi are displayed, with messages like "Unite in supporting comrade Xi Jinping" and "Chinese dreams of revitalization."

A centrally-located bookstore run by a state-owned company is displaying books on him. People are interested in Xi's past speeches and his way of thinking. At the press center, books about Xi translated into several languages are distributed to foreign media.

If Xi's ideologies are added to the party's guidelines, he will be considered as powerful as the country's founding leaders like Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping.

An exhibition, entitled "The 5 years of Sheer Endeavor," is hosted by the party's publicity department. It emphasizes Xi's achievements in 10 categories, including the military, economy and diplomacy. It shows photos of politicians who have fallen from power and confessions written by them.

Critics say that Xi is using his anti-corruption campaign as a way to oust political opponents. But it has gained support from people who were fed up with how the party operated. "I'm thrilled. China has gotten stronger and prosperous. It's become a much better nation." "The anti-corruption campaign is inspiring and encouraging for ordinary citizens like us," say some citizens.

However, those who haven't seen any benefits from the party's policies have voiced their dissatisfaction. "Our land was seized, but we only received a little compensation because some officials embezzled the money. We have no one to turn to." "We all live under Communist Party rule, so why do people in the cities get pensions while farmers don't? We used to provide rice to the cities at rock-bottom prices. They couldn't have grown so much without us, right?"

However, the Communist Party wields tremendous power in the country, and public discontent is unlikely to spread. How far will Xi's influence grow? The new party leadership lineup that is chosen at this congress will provide a good indication.


NHK World's China Correspondent Ryuta Okutani joins Newsroom Tokyo anchor Hideki Nakayama in Beijing. Watch the video for analysis.


Beijing Prepared for Meeting

In the run-up to the Party Congress, Xi Jinping's regime has been tightening censorship and increasing surveillance to clamp down on anti-government activity.

A lawyer specializing in human rights cases was detained for 2 years. He frequently worked for individuals forcibly evicted from their homes by local governments. His wife, Wang Qiaoling, says he lost 10 kilograms while in custody.

"Every day for 2 months, my husband was forced to remain in the same position for 15 hours. He was beaten if he moved even slightly. My husband said when he was forced to swallow drugs, he prepared himself for death," she says.

China has a history of arresting individuals who campaign for democracy, but since President Xi took office, lawyers are being targeted, too. Since July 2015, the government has interrogated or detained about 300 lawyers around the country.

Li Wenzu's husband is a lawyer who was arrested for allegedly attempting to overthrow the government. She doesn't know what's happened to him. "My husband overthrowing the government? There is no way he could've operated a militia. I can't believe he was detained simply for defending his client," she says. Six months after her husband was arrested, Li received a notice from the police, but it didn’t explain the charges in detail.

Li and Wang went to demand Li's husband's release and request that their cases be investigated. They say they have visited nearly 20 times over the past 2 years and never been given a straight answer. "If we live in a lawful country, our rights must be protected. A lawyer's right to visit a client is one of our most fundamental rights," says Li.

The regime has also been tightening online censorship. For example, websites containing words such as "Tiananmen Incident" and "democratization" have been completely censored. Until fairly recently, there had been no severe restrictions on privately managed blogs and comments on websites. "Until 2013, the internet was a relatively free environment. Many people shared and were able to access various kinds of information on the web," says University of Hong Kong Associate Professor King-wa Fu.

Then in June of this year, the Chinese government put in force a new cyber-security law. Social media sites started to require its users to post messages under their real names. If the government decides that a certain post is inappropriate, not only can it delete the data -- it can also track down authors and prosecute them.

Dong Xuan manages a user-generated news and video site for residents of Beijing. She’s troubled by the recent law because her advertising income depends on the number of people accessing each article, and recently, more articles are being deleted. "They’ll delete anything if it disagrees even slightly with the party’s policies. Last week, I posted an article about the bad aspects of society and it was deleted," she says. She has grown more careful about posting articles that might be seen as unfavorable to the government.

"I'm certain that the government has become more sensitive to online criticism. President Xi is tightening restrictions to prevent attacks on himself in cyberspace. Perhaps he is concerned about the instability of his own regime," says King-wa.


Watch the video for more analysis with Okutani.