Chinese Whispers

Succession and power: a look ahead to the 20th Party Congress

58 min listen

In This Episode

Every five years, Beijing goes into heightened security as senior members of the Chinese Communist Party gather. The National Party Congress is an occasion for the party to review its track record and determine its future direction, but most crucially, it’s a moment to unveil future leaders.

Older members of the seven-member Politburo Standing Committee are retired while fresh blood is brought in, including at the very top – the General Secretary. Under a norm set down by Deng Xiaoping, this General Secretary is meant to be changed every other congress – in other words, every ten years. But at this upcoming Congress, most China watchers expect Xi Jinping to remain in position, beginning his third term in power.

So to look ahead to this important event in the Communist calendar, in this episode Cindy Yu speaks to author of the Sinocism newsletter Bill Bishop and Professor Victor Shih, expert in Chinese elite politics and author of the new book Coalitions of the Weak. They discuss the possibility that Xi will be officially titled ‘The People’s Leader’, that a senior Communist official, recently sentenced to death, may have been wiretapping the President (and what this means for his control of the party) and just how much the Politburo Standing Committee could be packed with Xi allies (Victor observes that a ‘brilliant political move’ by the President has so far been to put his enemies in difficult positions so as to erode their credibility, for example putting the relatively more liberal Wang Yang in charge of Xinjiang policy).

But whatever happens, what we won’t see in this congress is a successor. Xi is here to stay, and who would want to be appointed successor anyway? ‘It’s basically putting a large target on your back and your front’, Bill says.

Tune in for a detailed primer looking ahead to this monumental event in the CCP calendar.

If you enjoy this podcast, you can now register your interest for an upcoming Chinese Whispers newsletter, at It’ll be everything you love about the podcast.


Want to join the debate?

Only subscribers can comment. Sign up and – in the run-up to the election – you’ll get the next three months for just £3.

Already a subscriber? Log in