China cracks down ahead of 19th Party Congress

China appears to be cracking down ahead of this week’s crucial meeting of the Communist Party.

The 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China, starting on October 18 in Beijing, will be seen as a test of president Xi Jinping’s power, where he is expected to cement it. The meeting is held once every five years.

Ahead of the party congress, nightclubs have been raided, TV dramas censored and football matches have been postponed, according to the Hong Kong Free Press. The media organisation added that foreigners have also been visited at home by police asking to see their visas or paperwork.

Earlier this summer, China announced a new crackdown on online content with a plan to outlaw virtual private networks, or VPNs, by February 2018. China already operates the largest internet censorship program in the world, removing and blocking content which reflects badly on the country’s leadership.

Since gaining power in 2012, Xi has established himself as one of China’s most transformational leaders. Under his hand, the last five years have ushered in sweeping economic and financial reforms. His leadership has also unleashed fierce anti-corruption campaigns and been accused of human-rights abuses.

At least three key developments are expected to emerge from the 19th Party Congress.

First and perhaps most importantly, it will select a new party leadership and restructure the Politburo, the Politburo’s Standing Committee (an inner cabinet) and the military. Many officials will likely step down. Xi, however, is expected to accumulate more power.

Second, it will address the party’s areas of focus for the next five years – including economic reforms. Other items on the agenda include the Belt and Road Initiative – a massive investment in infrastructures, mostly around transport and energy – and the ‘Made in China 2025‘ scheme that aims to transform Beijing into a leading manufacturing power.

Third, as per tradition, Xi is expected to create his own body of Theory or Thought to be enshrined in the Party’s ideologies, in the same manner as the Mao Zedong Thought and Deng Xiaoping Theory.

The congress also is expected to address current tensions between China and Taiwan and Hong Kong, two regions which have amassed anti-Beijing sentiments over the years. China sees Taiwan as its territory, while Hong Kong – which was handed back to the mainland in 1997 – has been demanding greater autonomy.

Latest developments

  • In a propaganda event, China has packed a exhibition hall in Beijing to showcase its recent achievements. Visitors who enter the hall are greeted by hundreds of images of Xi, depicting his role in China’s recent successes.
  • The congress is also expected to focus on the environment. Tens of thousands of businesses providing chemicals have closed after a wave of environmental inspections. This has disrupted global supply chains and pushed up prices. Xi said he is willing to sacrifice some economic growth for a “war” on the country’s air and land pollution.
  • Airbnb, the world’s biggest room-sharing service, has cancelled its Beijing bookings for the rest of October. The cancelled bookings are in a 20km radius of Tiananmen Square, where the party congress will be held. Without explanation, Airbnb said bookings would not be available until the beginning of November.
  • Xi removed two senior generals to strengthen his grips on the military. A Chinese Watchdog said that since 2013, 1.34 million officials have been purged or punished for political corruption.“The control of the military is an ironclad insurance policy for Xi,” said Minxin Pei, a China policy expert, in the New York Times.

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