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What to expect from China's Communist Party Congress

STORY: Every five years, China’s Communist Party members gather in the thousands,

for a congress that has been taking place since 1921.

To the untrained eye, it can seem dull or routine: a sea of officials in dark suits.

However it can say a lot about the party’s plans for China.

This year - the 20th instalment - is all about this man: Xi Jinping.

who is widely expected to defy convention and secure an unprecedented third term as supreme leader.

(Tony Munroe, Reuters Greater China Bureau Chief)

“This will effectively cement his status as China’s most powerful leader since Mao Zedong.”

Beneath him, Xi will unveil his new leadership team and a sweeping reshuffle of China’s elite.

We spoke to Reuters Beijing Greater China Bureau Chief Tony Munroe about how the shake-up

will affect decisions on everything from the economy to Covid-19, both at home and abroad.

“There’s a lot of global interest in the party congress. It takes place only once every 5 years. The process is opaque and mostly happens behind closed doors."

Specifically these doors, of the Great Hall of the People on Beijing's Tiananmen Square.

It’s a major political meeting.

In mid-October, 2,300 party members from across the country will gather for roughly a week, mostly behind closed doors.

"And the expectation is of course that Xi Jinping will be conferred to a third leadership term. Having said that we still don’t know who will join him on the Politburo Standing Committee and in particular who will be tapped to replace the current premier Li Keqiang."

The Politburo Standing Committee will be the most closely watched unveiling.

At the end of the confab, seven politicians walk across the stage behind Xi.

This will be the new engine of the party.

Will Xi’s role change? Some say unlikely.

Xi holds three key titles: General Secretary of the Communist Party, Chairman of the Central Military Commission and President.

He is expected to retain all three.

"It would be a surprise if he didn’t retain all three positions given he is perceived to have neutralized any meaningful opposition to his leadership during his ten years in power.”

Some pundits have suggested he will become Chairman - like Mao - a title that was abolished in 1982.

But there's been no sign he will adopt it.

The new leadership will set policy in China for the next five years and beyond.

For example over when China may begin to ease its stringent zero-Covid policy.

“Broadly speaking the expectation is for continuity. And that means we can expect to see China continuing to assert itself as a rising economic and geopolitical and military power and as a global representative or champion of the emerging world in contrast with the western or U.S. led post war order. And that manifests itself in continuing to press its claim on Taiwan, and broadly speaking I think the default expectation is that we would see more of China moving in that direction. China has given very little indication as to how or when it may begin to exit from zero-Covid. The challenge for China is that there is broadly speaking a lack of herd immunity. So opening the borders and letting Covid in as it were, could have quite significant consequences for public health. And it is not clear whether China is ready to deal with that or how it plans to manage that. However there is growing pressure economically for China to ease up or ease back of zero-Covid. And it's a policy that increasingly critics say is not sustainable for the long term."