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Chinese parliament set to centralize CCP power

William Yang in Taipei
March 3, 2023

As China's rubber-stamp parliament gathers in Beijing this weekend, President Xi Jinping is officially set to kick off his third term, while China's Communist Party is gearing up for more institutional reform.

Chinese national flags flutter in front of the Great Hall of the People
This year's gathering marks the start of a new five-year term for the Chinese Communist PartyImage: VCG/IMAGO

Around 3,000 delegates from across China are making their way to the Chinese capital, Beijing for the start of the annual parliamentary conference this weekend. The dual political sessions are expected to endorse a list of top officials for key government positions, pass a plan to overhaul several government agencies and institutions, while also formally confirming Chinese leader Xi Jinping's precedent-busting third term in power.

Typically called the "two sessions," the meetings in Beijing include the gathering of China's rubber-stamp parliament — the National People's Congress (NPC) — and the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), which is an advisory body.

This year's two sessions, which typically last about two weeks, mark the start of a new five-year term for the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), and experts say delegates are expected to implement key policies laid out by the 20th Party Congress last October.

"We need to see the NPC as a continuity of the Party Congress, and it's sort of an implementation of key congress decisions," said Alfred Wu, associate professor at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy at the National University of Singapore.

Centralizing power 

During October's Party Congress, Xi cemented his unprecedented third term as the general secretary of the CCP, while further consolidating his power base by eliminating political rivals and appointing loyalists to the Politburo Standing Committee, the CCP's top decision-making organ. This weekend will see him be declared China's president for the third time.

A man walks past a photo of Chinese President Xi Jinping at the Museum of the Communist Party of China
Most important policies laid out by the 20th Party Congress last October are expected to be implemented during the 'two sessions' gatheringImage: GREG BAKER/AFP/Getty Images

Some analysts say they expect the theme of centralizing power to dominate the meeting.

"While the two sessions were mainly about personnel appointment and institutional reform in the past, the fact that the CCP has determined the leaders of several key government agencies prior to the meetings means this year's focus will be on institutional reform," said Hsin-Hsien Wang, an expert on Chinese politics at National Cheng-Chi University in Taiwan.

"Regardless of how the CCP decides to reform key government institutions, it's clear that centralizing power to the party will be the main theme," he told DW. 

"This move is mainly caused by the situation defined in the communique of the second plenum session of the CCP, which emphasized that China is facing a complicated international environment and the difficult task of kicking off reform while maintaining stability at home."

Incorporating political slogans in the constitution

Apart from reforming top party and government institutions, some analysts expect the party to consolidate Xi's leadership still further by potentially incorporating political slogans into the Chinese constitution.

"We are likely to see the incorporation of 'the two safeguards,' meaning safeguarding the core status of Xi Jinping within the party and safeguarding the centralized authority of the party, into the constitution," said Wen-Ti Sung, a political scientist at the Australian National University.

"This is a continuation of what we saw five years ago when they abolished the term limits. This time around, they are making inroads in reflecting not just the party's leadership over the country but more specifically, Xi Jinping's unique role in Chinese history," he told DW.

People walk past a video screen showing a speech by Chinese President Xi Jinping at the Museum of the Communist Party of China in Beijing
Some experts say the party will consolidate Xi's leadership by potentially incorporating political slogans into China's constitutionImage: GREG BAKER/AFP/Getty Images

Loyalty to Xi is key

Since the CCP's high-ranking officials are all Xi loyalists, experts say the final lineup, due to be revealed after the two sessions, will show that having a strong relationship with Xi is key. A track record of loyalty will determine who is assigned to positions of greater importance.

"Even in an era when he has achieved winner-takes-all politics, Xi still isn't completely comfortable about the loyalty of the people around him," said Sung.

Chinese politics expert Wang added that with the CCP's power so concentrated on Xi, he now lacks the "firewalls" that used to exist to shield him from any unexpected crisis. It's a situation that could ultimately prove dangerous for the president.

"In the past, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang would always help shoulder the responsibility when things happened, but when that layer of protection is gone, everything will be directed at Xi and the party's top leadership," Wang told DW.

Former Shanghai party chief Li Qiang is expected to become China's new premier, while He Lifeng — in charge of the National Development and Reform Commission — is poised to become the new vice premier in charge of all economic affairs. "He is likely taking over the current position occupied by Liu He," said Alfred Wu from NUS.

Li Qiang, the former Communist Party Secretary of Shanghai, applauds during the opening ceremony of the 20th National Congress
Former Shanghai party chief Li Qiang is expected to become China's new premierImage: Mark Schiefelbein/AP Photo/picture alliance

Experts expect a high GDP growth target

Following the pandemic, which seriously impacted China's economic growth over the past three years, some experts expect China's GDP growth target for 2023 to be between 5.5% and 6%.

"I expect the target to be pretty high, because China's economy is rebounding," said Iris Pang, the chief economist for Greater China at ING.

"There must be some substance to support the GDP number. While I'm not concerned about consumption, I have more hesitance towards infrastructure investment, because the issuance of local governments' special bonds has been a lot less this year so far," she told DW.

"That makes me think perhaps infrastructure investment may not be a very good growth engine this year."

On top of that, the ongoing technology war between the United States and China will likely push Beijing to highlight the importance of technology self-reliance during the two sessions, according to Pang.

"China has been reacting quite slowly and I think there must be some precise policy regarding how to tackle the problem during the two sessions," Pang said.

"There must be investment and personnel support. That's not easy at all."

Edited by: Keith Walker