August 30, 2019 / 10:33 AM / 23 days ago

After long gap, China's ruling elite to gather for October conclave

BEIJING (Reuters) - Top officials of China’s ruling Communist Party will hold a key meeting in October to discuss improving governance and “perfecting” the country’s socialist system, state media said on Friday, more than a year after the last was held.

FILE PHOTO: Party members are reflected on a party emblem of the Communist Party of China (CPC) as they gather to attend a weekly group study at Tidal Star Group's party activity room in Beijing, China, February 25, 2019. REUTERS/Jason Lee

Plenums, as they are formally called, are generally held every autumn, and are an opportunity for the party’s elite to map out policy priorities for the year ahead.

Unexpectedly, however, one was not held last autumn, amid speculation in Beijing of disagreements at the top of the party about the direction of the country, amid a bruising trade war with the United States and slowing economic growth.

State news agency Xinhua did not specify an exact date for October’s plenum, a closed-door meeting in Beijing of the party’s Central Committee, which is roughly 370-strong and the largest of its elite bodies that rule China.

It will “study several important issues on the upholding and perfecting of the system of socialism with Chinese characteristics and the promotion of the modernisation of state governance,” Xinhua said, using typically turgid party phrasing.

Socialism with Chinese characteristics refers to the party being Communist in name and maintaining one-party political control, but largely following the principles of a market economy, albeit with an important state sector.

The plenum decision was taken at a Politburo meeting chaired by President Xi Jinping, which discussed the importance of ensuring the party’s, and the state’s, vigorous development and lasting peace and stability, Xinhua added.

The plenary session will be the fourth since a party congress ended in October 2017, ushering in Xi’s second term in office.

The last plenum, in February 2018, discussed personnel decisions and a reform plan for state institutions to give the party even greater control.

The one before that approved a plan to scrap presidential term limits, effectively meaning Xi can stay in office for life if he wishes. That decision was rubber-stamped by parliament in March of last year.

October’s meeting comes as the economy is still slowing, and tension with Washington shows no signs of ending, not only over trade but other issues such as the disputed South China Sea and U.S. support for self-ruled and democratic Taiwan, claimed by Beijing as its own.

Xi’s authority has also been challenged by pro-democracy protests in the Chinese territory of Hong Kong, an unwanted distraction ahead of a massive military parade in Beijing on Oct. 1 to mark seven decades of Communist China.

Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Clarence Fernandez

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