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Laurie CHEN, Matthew WALSH

China's Communist Party Congress to end with Xi set for third term

China's 20th Communist Party Congress is expected to give President Xi Jinping a norm-breaking third term in power. ©AFP

Beijing (AFP) - China's five-yearly Communist Party Congress began its closing session on Saturday, with President Xi Jinping likely to seal an unprecedented third term in power.

Xi began delivering a speech about midday (0400 GMT) in one of the final events of the week-long gathering at Beijing's Great Hall of the People.

The closing ceremony will conclude a week of largely rubber-stamp meetings among 2,300 party delegates, who will approve a reshuffle of the party's top leadership likely to have been determined well in advance.

However in an unexpected move at such a heavily choreographed event, former leader Hu Jintao was led out of the closing ceremony.No official explanation was given.

The new Central Committee of around 200 senior Party officials was elected shortly after 11 am Saturday, state media agency Xinhua reported, without disclosing a full list of members.

Delegates also voted to endorse Xi's "work report" delivered at the Congress's opening last Sunday and rubber-stamped a resolution on the Party's constitution.

Xi is now widely expected to be unveiled as general secretary on Sunday, shortly after the first meeting of the new Central Committee.

This will allow Xi to sail through to a third term as China's president, due to be announced during the government's annual legislative sessions in March.

Xi previously abolished the presidential two-term limit in 2018, paving the way for him to rule indefinitely. 

The weekend will also see the new Central Committee approve a reshuffled 25-member Politburo, as well as a Politburo Standing Committee -- China's apex of power -- of around seven people, which analysts expect to be stacked with Xi allies.

At Sunday's Congress opening ceremony, Xi delivered a 105-minute speech lauding the party's achievements and glossing over domestic problems such as the stalling economy and the damage wrought by his harsh zero-Covid policy. 

Heavy on ideological rhetoric and light on policy, a defiant Xi also urged Communist Party members to steel themselves against numerous challenges including a hardening geopolitical climate.

"We ready to withstand high winds, choppy waters and even dangerous storms," he said. 

"Confronted with drastic changes in the international landscape, especially external attempts to blackmail, contain, (and) blockade...China, we have put our national interests first."

Security was also a main focus of the speech, in which Xi lauded Hong Kong's transition from "chaos to governance" and vowed to "never commit to abandoning the use of force" to seize the self-ruled island of Taiwan.

The work report "is a carefully scripted drama through which the power of the Party, its leader, and its ideas are meant to be elevated and amplified", wrote David Bandurski, editor of the University of Hong Kong's China Media Project.

Power grab

The Congress this week is likely to further cement Xi's position as China's most powerful leader since Mao Zedong, with analysts predicting he is virtually certain to be reappointed for a third term in power.

But some key questions remain unresolved, including whether Xi, 69, will appoint a potential successor to the Politburo Standing Committee and whether a pithier form of his signature political philosophy will be enshrined in the charter of the 96-million-strong party.

The latter would make Xi Jinping Thought "the latest, 21st-century rendition of Marxism (and) the state ideology of China", said Steve Tsang, director of the SOAS China Institute at the University of London.

"Xi's power will be akin to that of the dictator of China, and there will be next to no scope for anyone to advise him to attempt course correction," Tsang told AFP.

"This will increase the risk of policy mistakes being made, as everything will depend on Xi getting it right."

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