Meeting of China’s top leaders delayed

4th Plenum on hold . . .

In late August 2019, the Politburo of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) announced that the 4th Plenum of the 19th Party Central Committee would convene in October 2019. As of October 11, no specific date has yet been set. This plenary session was to take place about 580 days after the previous session. Because most plenums occur within 300-400 days of each other, the current delay has prompted speculation that there might be disagreement brewing among the CCP’s top echelon.

Why it matters . . .

The CCP’s Central Committee is elected every five years by the CCP Congress. The 205-member Committee convenes seven times over the course of its five-year term. Normally, each plenum has a different agenda. For example, 3rd Plenums usually focus on economic reforms, whereas 4th Plenums – the one currently delayed – approve new policies regarding the Party’s internal governance. Often, plenums represent milestones in CCP history. For example, the 3rd Plenum in 1978 marked the beginning of China’s loosening of its socialist economic system and the introduction of economic reforms.

What to make of the delay?

It’s no secret that China has been facing big challenges – the crisis in Hong Kong, the trade war with the U.S., and a slowing down of its economy. It’s possible that the 4th Plenum has been delayed because these challenges have stirred debate within China’s leadership, specifically, President Xi Jinping’s handling of these current challenges. It is also possible that the recent delay might be completely unrelated. The previous two Plenums convened in January and February 2018 – an usually short timeframe – because Xi wanted to revise the constitution and abolish the two-term limit on his presidency prior to the gathering of the National People’s Congress in 2018. The current delay could simply be an adjustment to the Committee’s seven-year timeframe, rather than an indication of political trouble. Indeed, the ramping up of state repression and censorship might a better bellwether of current leadership anxiety than the 4th Plenum delay.