How China’s Communist Party Congress works

Chinese President Xi Jinping is poised to win a third five-year term as General Secretary of the ruling Communist Party, the most powerful job in the country, at the 20th Party Congress that wraps up this weekend.

The conclave of roughly 2,300 party representatives held every five years began last Sunday and has taken place at the vast Great Hall of the People on Beijing’s Tiananmen Square, with much of the proceedings behind closed doors.

Based on recent iterations of the congress, here is how it is likely to proceed:


On Sunday, Xi is widely expected to secure a precedent-breaking third term as the party’s general secretary and chairman of the party’s central military commission.

The two titles give him control of the party and the military.

He is also likely to renew his presidency for a third term at the annual parliamentary meeting in March, after having amended the constitution in 2018 to remove the term limit.

The president is a symbolic and ceremonial role that allows Xi to visit other countries and engage with world leaders as China’s Head of State.


The ritual began with dozens of leaders walking into the main hall before taking their seats on-stage against a backdrop of giant red flags and a hammer and sickle plaque.

Retired senior leaders joined in, including Hu Jintao, Xi’s most recent predecessor.

During the opening ceremony Xi gave a speech on the highlights of the party congress report, reviewing the party’s achievements of recent years and laying out its vision for the next five years. The speech was less than two hours, because unlike during the last congress five years ago, Xi did not read the entire report.


The 2,296 met behind closed doors in smaller groups to discuss the report, personnel, and the draft of an amendment to the party charter.


At Saturday’s closing ceremony, delegates will vote to endorse the congress report and party constitution amendment.

They will also elect a new Central Committee – roughly 200 full members with voting rights and about 170 alternates – from a pre-selected shortlist that in recent congresses included about 8% more names than seats available.


This will take place on Sunday.

A day after the congress, the newly elected Central Committee will convene behind closed doors at its first plenum.

In a process that is shrouded in secrecy, a list will have been compiled of the next Politburo, which is usually 25 people, and its Standing Committee, which currently numbers seven but has ranged between five and nine.

Experts say the two lists would typically have been finalised before the congress begins.

The 200 Central Committee members with voting rights will then vote “yes” or “no” on each of the proposed candidates for the two committees.

The Central Committee will then elect one person from the Politburo Standing Committee (PSC) to be the general secretary.

Later that day, the new general secretary – almost certainly Xi – will lead the new Standing Committee into a room at the Great Hall of the People where journalists are gathered.

The Standing Committee members will enter in descending ranking order.

The general secretary will then introduce his new team and speak about the work ahead.

The Central Committee also approves the make-up of a new secretariat and the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection.


Not entirely.

The party’s top leadership reshuffle is at this point complete. In coming weeks and months, the party would announce who would take over the current jobs of those who had been promoted at the Congress.

Key government positions are still to be determined and finalised at the annual session of China’s National People’s Congress, or parliament, which typically begins in March.

It is there that Xi is expected to extend his presidency and Li Keqiang will likely step down as premier after two terms.

At the upcoming Standing Committee reveal, the person who immediately follows Xi, (or after Li, if he remains on the committee) is on track to be named premier in March.

Author: Yew Lun Tian, Reuters

You might also like