From November 8-11, the 19th Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) will hold its 6th plenary session in Beijing. In this edition of GED Explains, we look at the role of this Committee and its place in Chinese politics. Then we give three reasons why this is of significance well beyond China.

What is The Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party?

The Central Committee (CC) of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is one of the three top decision-making bodies in China’s political system. The Politburo is the second and its Standing Committee the most powerful. CC members are elected every five years by the National Party Congress.

The current 19th CC has 204 full members (i.e., eligible to vote) and 172 alternate members. In its five-year period, the CC usually gets together for seven plenary sessions, each of which has a specific agenda:

  • 1st plenum: takes place shortly after the Party Congress (usually in autumn), is a constituting session, and focuses on internal elections and staff appointments.
  • 2nd plenum: takes place in spring the following year before the twin meeting (lianghui) of the National People’s Congress (NPC) and the Chinese People Political Consultative Conference, approves, among others, government candidates prior to their approval by the NPC.
  • 3rd plenum: takes place one year after the Party Congress, discusses key economic and political issues, attempts to do something “big” so as to leave a legacy for its members, the Party, and the government. For example, China’s reform and opening policy was stipulated at a 3rd plenum (1978), and so was Xi’s reform agenda (2013).
  • 4th plenum: focuses on military governance, such as transferring the chair of the Party Military Commission to a successor and implementation of policies stipulated by the previous plenum.
  • 5th plenum: usually serves as the platform to stipulate the proposal of the new five-year plan, such as was the case last time in October 2020.
  • 6th plenum (the one being currently held): pursues the aim of ideology building and preparing the next Party Congress.
  • 7th and last plenum: a review of the CC’s past work and finetuning preparations for the next Party Congress, which usually takes place shortly after.


organizational chart china party


What’s the focus of the current plenary session?

As a 6th plenum, the current session will focus on ideological issues and set the tone in the one-year run-up to the 20th National Party Congress, which is supposed to take place in autumn 2022. Before the removal of the two-term limit for the presidency of the People’s Republic of China in 2018, we would have seen a leadership transition, first in the Party in 2022, followed by the government in 2023. However, given current circumstances, it seems that Xi is here to stay – a clear break with the transitional regime painstakingly established under Deng Xiaoping.

Xi Jinping wants to write even more history at the running plenary session, as the CC is supposed to pass a “Resolution on the major achievements and historical experience of the Party’s centennial struggle.” This kind of “historical resolution” has only happened twice before in the CCP’s history:

  • Mao Zedong’s historical resolution in 1945 marked the final end and victory of his “rectification campaign,” largely aimed at ridding him of political adversaries.
  • Deng Xiaoping’s historical resolution in 1981 tried to find a balanced assessment of Mao’s successes and mistakes while at the same time committing to China’s course of reform and opening.

The two historical resolutions also served to strengthen the position of the current leadership and give them sovereignty over the interpretation of the Party’s history. By initiating a third historical resolution, Xi Jinping seems to pursue two major goals:

  • Joining the rows of the Party’s paramount leaders, Mao Zedong, and Deng Xiaoping. Some observers argue that Xi even wants to replace Deng Xiaoping and the odds appear to be in his favor.
  • Reinforcing his position as “the Core of the Party” in the run-up to the 20th Party Congress, which also means to fully gather the Party behind him and reaffirm China’s “new development pattern” based on “dual circulation,” which we explained in a previous blogpost.

Why should we care?

Well, first of all, it’s about China, the second-largest economy and most populous country in the world. That should be reason enough why we should care about what happens at the meeting of one of China’s ruling party’s most powerful organs. For those who still think: “So what?!”, here are two more reasons:

  • China is at a turning point in its economic development process. While Deng’s reform policy made China the “factory of the world,” Xi’s economic policy wants to turn China into a high-tech nation (not new for a Chinese leader, but expect it to be serious this time!) with the highest possible degree of technological self-reliance. Ideally, the roles between China and the world, esp. the West, may even be reversed in the future, which will be, and already is, strongly impacting trade relations, business models, and value chains around the globe. The plenum and its resolution might further elaborate on the underlying strategies, such as “dual circulation,” which is of significance to politics and business well beyond China.
  • China’s role in international governance has shifted greatly under Xi Jinping. The country has become an assertive and self-confident geopolitical power, challenging western-style multilateralism by trying to establish itself as a viable alternative, especially for emerging and developing countries. It is clear by now that hopes for convergence, as embedded in China’s WTO accession 20 years ago, are off the table for the foreseeable future. The “competition of systems,” believed dead long – is back on the table. Some of the possible scenarios that this changing international order might bring about and which are the topic of our current blogpost series on globalization scenarios, look rather gloomy for the West and the world in general. Taking these developments as a wake-up call, the West has started to see China in a different light. Even the EU, with a strong focus on an economic partnership with China, has added the category “systemic rival” to its view of China. It is, therefore, more important than ever before to closely follow and better understand policy-making processes and related key events in China – the running plenum being one of them.