China's ruling Communist Party will begin its 20th Party Congress on October 16, state media reported Tuesday, a landmark meeting at which President Xi Jinping is expected to be anointed as the country's most powerful leader in decades.
The congress in the capital Beijing comes as Xi faces significant political headwinds, including an ailing economy, deteriorating relations with the United States and a strict zero-Covid policy that has accelerated China's inward turn from the world.
It is widely expected to see Xi reinstated as president for a third term -- unprecedented in the contemporary era.
It will also see the unveiling of a new top leadership line-up, as Xi consolidates his grip on the party and his position as the most powerful Chinese leader since the country's founder Mao Zedong.
The meeting -- held every five years -- will be "extremely important", according to a report by state broadcaster CCTV on a Monday meeting of the country's 25-member Politburo, adding preparations were "progressing smoothly."
The event will see about 2,300 Communist Party delegates from across the country descend on Beijing in a highly choreographed exercise to pick members of the party's Central Committee of around 200 members.
The final meeting of the current Central Committee will take place in Beijing from October 9, the report said.
The Central Committee will then vote for the 25-person Politburo and its all-powerful Standing Committee -- China's highest leadership body and apex of power, currently comprised of seven people.
Voting is mostly a formality -- the pecking order of the Politburo and its Standing Committee is likely to have been decided well in advance. The overall duration of the Congress is not yet clear.
- Expect no surprises –
Analysts predict "no surprises" in terms of format and timing.
"Most people will not be surprised to see that Xi Jinping will have a third term. I think this has been lined up for a while," said Alfred Wu Muluan, a Chinese politics expert and associate professor at the National University of Singapore.
"He will increase the percentage of his supporters, particularly from Fujian and Zhejiang (where Xi previously held top positions), in the Politburo... He can then count on their support for his fourth term in five years' time."
It is likely that Xi will be anointed the honorific title of "Great Leader" at the Congress, Wu said, a term last used to refer to Mao Zedong.
Party propaganda organs such as its official newspaper, the People's Daily, have already started using the term "People's Leader" to refer to Xi.
Wu added that the top leadership lineup was most likely set during the secretive two-week conclave of Communist Party leaders held at the seaside town of Beidaihe in August.
- Unchecked power -
Xi's decade-long tenure has also seen crackdowns on corruption within the party, which analysts say served to take down his political rivals, as well as the crushing of a democracy movement in Hong Kong and strict lockdowns on cities in the name of curbing the coronavirus.
He has faced harsh human rights criticism from the international community over repressive policies in the northwestern Xinjiang region, which have seen an estimated one million Uyghurs and other Muslim minorites detained in a sweeping crackdown ostensibly targeting "terrorism".
He also ushered in an assertive "Wolf Warrior" foreign policy that has alienated Western democracies and some of China's regional neighbours, and pushed for closer ties with Russia while cultivating domestic nationalism to rampant levels.
He abolished the presidential two-term limit in 2018 -- originally set up by former leader Deng Xiaoping in the 1980s to prevent another Mao-like dictatorship -- leaving the possibility of him becoming leader for life.
Over the past year, Chinese propaganda has worked in overdrive to bolster Xi's legacy, diminish the achievements of his predecessors and further enshrine him in the highest echelons of the Communist Party.
Analysts predict that at this year's congress, Xi will be looking to shorten the name of his official political philosophy in the party constitution to the pithier "Xi Jinping Thought", putting him on par with Mao.