China's Communist Party is holding its five-year congress. Here's what to expect

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By Euronews  with AP
Delegates raise their hands to show approval of work reports during the closing ceremony for the 19th Party Congress at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing in October 2017
Delegates raise their hands to show approval of work reports during the closing ceremony for the 19th Party Congress at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing in October 2017   -   Copyright  AP Photo/Andy Wong, File

China's ruling Communist Party is holding its five-year national congress starting Sunday, where Xi Jinping is expected to receive a third term as the uncontested head of the country's party, government and military.

The proceedings surrounding the event are shrouded in secrecy, as is typical in China's authoritarian one-party state. 

But the weeklong congress — the 20th in its more than 100-year history — is expected to produce a new set of leaders handpicked by Xi, who faces no term limits and has yet to indicate a successor after a decade in the top spot.

The 96-million-member party is led by a Central Committee and Politburo. Their seven top cadres form the powerful Politburo Standing Committee.

What is at play at the congress?

No significant changes to the political or economic system are expected. Using a wide-ranging anti-corruption campaign and relentless crackdown on dissidents and free speech, Xi has eliminated virtually all opposition and placed loyalists in most of the key positions.

Yet his hard-line "zero-COVID" policy that has placed tens of millions under quarantine, severely restricted travel and imposed a growing economic cost has sparked rare protests, including the appearance of anti-Xi banners in Beijing's high-tech business district of Haidian this week.

Authorities refused to comment on the incident and shut down all discussion about it on the internet — the only sphere of public life where criticism of the regime is possible until eventually censored.

Xi's administration says such tight COVID-19 controls are the only way to prevent a wider outbreak in the world's most populous nation.

Can it impact China's global position?

China's more assertive foreign policy has prompted a backlash from Europe, the US, and regional neighbours. 

China's claim to virtually the entire South China Sea has raised tensions with other countries, while its forces have clashed with Indian troops along their disputed border.

Beijing's close alignment of its foreign policy with Russia and refusal to criticise Moscow's invasion of Ukraine has also heightened tensions with the West.

That's also focused attention on China's threat to invade the self-governing island democracy of Taiwan to bring it under its control, a move that would draw in the US and allies such as Japan and Australia.

Xi has shown no sign of a change in foreign policy direction, although China's sharply reduced economic growth rate and challenges facing his signature "Belt and Road" foreign investment program are seen as reducing his leverage. 

The internment of more than 1 million Muslim Uyghur minorities in Xinjiang and the quashing of opposition voices and free speech in Hong Kong have also drawn broad criticism abroad, placing many local leaders under EU, UK and US travel and financial restrictions.

Who will be present at the congress?

State media report that 2,296 representatives were "elected" to the congress. All candidates are carefully vetted, and no open campaigning is allowed. 

Of those, 771 are described as frontline party members who hold jobs outside of the party bureaucracy, either in the armed forces, which functions as the party's military branch or in agriculture or technical professions.

The party and the congress's makeup remain heavily dominated by men from China's main Han ethnic group. 

Women and members of minority groups account for 27% and 11.5% of representatives, respectively, according to the official state-run news agency Xinhua.

Following what is expected to be a lengthy policy address Sunday, the congress will be conducted mainly behind closed doors.

If past protocols are followed, the new leadership will be unveiled the day after the congress closes, with its highest-ranking members emerging from behind a curtain to take their places in the hierarchy based on their distance to the left and right of Xi.