Chinese President Xi Jinping and first lady Peng Liyuan at Hong Kong International Airport on June 29, 2017 in Hong Kong.

Chinese President Xi Jinping and first lady Peng Liyuan at Hong Kong International Airport on June 29, 2017 in Hong Kong.

It’s an event that comes around every five years, and it sets the stage for political leadership of the world’s most populous country.

The national congress of China’s Communist Party will convene on October 18, 2017 in Beijing. Chinese president Xi Jinping is likely to secure another five-year term, but there are questions about changing party policies.

China’s economy is closing in on the United States’ in size and while talk of China replacing the U.S. as the world’s largest superpower is still just talk, some experts say more and more nations are looking to China as a viable strategic partner.

We preview the 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China and ask whether the country’s status in the world will be markedly different by the time the next one rolls around.


  • Anthony Kuhn International correspondent based in Beijing, China, NPR; @akuhnNPRnews
  • Elizabeth Economy Senior fellow and director of Asia studies, Council on Foreign Relations; co-author: "By All Means Necessary: How China's Resource Quest is Changing the World"; @LizEconomy
  • Suisheng Zhao Director, University of Denver Center for China-US Cooperation
  • Ji-Young Lee Assistant professor, American University; author, "China's Hegemony: Four Hundred Years of East Asian Domination"

What Is The Congress And Why Is It Important?


What exactly is the congress?

Anthony Kuhn: This congress happens every five years and what happens is there are about almost 90 million communist party members throughout the country. That sounds like a lot but it’s not even seven percent of the population. And these party members choose delegates to the congress and the delegates then choose a central committee and central committee chooses a politburo. All the way up to the general secretary, the boss of the party, who currently is Xi Jinping.

Why this is a big deal

Anthony Kuhn: This is the biggest political event of the year. It is going to set the agenda and the leadership line up for the next five years and even longer because after the first term, which Xi Jinping has had, they tend to appoint a designated successor. So this could affect the political atmosphere in the country for many years to come.

How the process works

Anthony Kuhn: Nobody gets nominated for any position that the leadership doesn’t want. So really, power comes from the top down and that’s why the whole system is so unstable and uncertain because nobody really knows how people are selected. Our best guess is that a dozen, or a few dozen, top leaders horse trade and haggle behind the scenes until they come up with a top leader. Then basically this whole party congress thing rubber stamps it, legitimizes it and approves it.

What is the committee and what is the politburo?

Ji-Young Lee: Through this National Party Congress, we are going to have a new central committee who will then elect the politburo made of 25 members. And they actually make major policy decisions. Above that politburo, you have the politburo standing committee which is really at the height of Chinese political power. And of course, President Xi Jinping, and also as general secretary, he is actually the top person in that hierarchy.

What does the party do?

Anthony Kuhn: What Xi has been doing is saying “We want to beef up Communist Party Committees in everything…” in education in medicine in business. And that’s very difficult, for hospitals and schools and companies to make decisions, when they have to get clearance from a communist party committee leader who is not necessarily a specialist. So the party is more important than the state. It’s above the state.

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