China sets mid-October date for key Communist Party congress

BEIJING (Reuters) - China’s ruling Communist Party will hold a once-every-five-years congress starting on Oct. 18, state media said on Thursday, at which President Xi Jinping will look to further stamp his authority on the party.

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Since assuming office almost five years ago, Xi has rapidly consolidated power, including heading a group leading economic reform and appointing himself commander-in-chief of the military, though as head of the Central Military Commission he already controls the armed forces.

A brief dispatch by the official Xinhua news agency following a meeting of the party’s Politburo, one of its elite ruling bodies, did not say how long the congress would go on for.

The congress will be preceded by a plenum, or smaller meeting, from Oct. 11, which will formally “suggest” the congress opens on Oct. 18, Xinhua said.

The congress will “deeply analyze the present international and domestic situation” and set an action plan and policy direction, Xinhua said, using typically turgid Communist phraseology.

Last October the party gave Xi the title of “core” leader, putting him on par with past strongmen like Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping.

The “core” leader title marked a significant strengthening of Xi’s position ahead of the party congress, at which a new Standing Committee, the pinnacle of power in China, will be constituted.

Xi has already been maneuvering people close to him into important positions ahead of the congress, with an eye to possibly getting some of them onto the Standing Committee.

That includes Chen Miner, party boss in the southwestern metropolis of Chongqing, parachuted into the position in July.

Judging by recent precedent, Xi should step down at the 2022 congress after a decade at the top, but speculation in leadership circles has swirled that he may try to stay on, perhaps giving up the post as president but remaining as party leader, the more senior of the posts.

At the congress, Xi will also lay out his vision for the next five years, and beyond, with focus on areas like economic reform, military modernization and the war on corruption.

Hundreds of thousands of officials have been punished in the sweeping crackdown on graft Xi unleashed after taking office, and several senior officials have been jailed, including Zhou Yongkang, once China’s much-feared domestic security chief.

Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Nick Macfie