It’s Xi Jinping’s big moment.
On Wednesday, the Chinese President kicked off the biggest and most-watched event in China’s political calendar: The 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China.
This twice-a-decade meeting is akin to a closed-door election, and will see President Xi formally granted a second five-year term as the party’s general secretary and a new generation of senior Chinese leaders anointed.
In his opening speech, Xi stressed “national rejuvenation” but warned that China’s development had been “unbalanced and inadequate.”
“China’s international standing has risen as never before,” he told the almost 3,000 delegates gathered in Beijing’s Great Hall of the People.
The week-long session will also chart the country’s future course in a world where China’s reach is now extending – and being felt – further than ever before. At stake, analysts say, is Xi’s vision and legacy.
Here’s why you should be paying attention.
Cult of Xi
The congress is being seen, in and outside of China, as a referendum on Xi’s success in positioning himself as China’s unquestioned political supremo, says Christopher Johnson, the Freeman Chair in China Studies at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.
With what Johnson describes as “political shock and awe,” Xi has taken down senior leaders in his anti-corruption drive, launched an unprecedented crackdown on free speech, and radically overhauled the People’s Liberation Army, the world’s largest fighting force.
At the congress, Xi may cement his standing by revising the party charter to include “Xi Jinping Thought” as one of the party’s guiding theories, elevating his stature to that of Chairman Mao Zedong who founded the People’s Republic of China in 1949. China’s previous two presidents haven’t had their ideas enshrined in the constitution in this way.
Some have speculated that Xi may also seek to stay in power beyond 2022, breaking a tradition followed by his two predecessors and emulating Russian President Vladimir Putin.
“Wherever one looks, Xi seems to be at center vision in modern China. The only issue is whether one person can really extend their influence over such a wide area,” said Kerry Brown, a professor of Chinese Politics at King’s College London.
Why does it matter to the rest of the world?
With Xi expected to emerge from the congress stronger than ever, the world will likely see China continue to step into a global leadership vacuum as the US turns inward under President Donald Trump.
In his first five years in power, Xi eschewed the cautious foreign policy that had been a hallmark of his predecessors.
He’s overseen the development of China’