The 370 or so members of the Communist Party of China’s (CPC) Central Committee began a closed-door session here on Thursday to set the stage for the Party’s once-in-a-decade leadership transition, to begin on November 8.

Thursday’s plenary session will be the last meeting of the 17th Central Committee. The members will approve an amendment to the Party’s constitution and the work report that General Secretary Hu Jintao will present at next week’s 18th National Congress. The Congress will open in Beijing’s Great Hall of the People next Thursday, and is expected to last for a week.

The official Xinhua news agency said the draft work report would review the work carried out in the past five years and “make strategic arrangements” at a “crucial time when the country is deepening reform and opening up and accelerating the transformation of its economic development pattern”.

Incoming leadership

The 18th Party Congress will choose a new Central Committee and also appoint members to the Party’s internal disciplinary body, the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection. Following the conclusion of the weeklong Congress, the newly-appointed Central Committee will choose the next Politburo Standing Committee — the small circle of officials that is the highest authority in the Party. Only two members of the current nine-member Standing Committee will hold on to their positions following the transition: Vice-President Xi Jinping, expected to succeed Mr. Hu as General Secretary; and Vice-Premier Li Keqiang.

According to sources in Beijing with ties to the Party, competing factions are yet to reach a consensus on the composition of the next Standing Committee, expected to have seven members.

Both Mr. Hu and former President Jiang Zemin are pushing for their respective allies to be nominated. Wang Qishan, a Vice-Premier in charge of economic affairs and a strong backer of reforms with close ties to Mr. Jiang, and Li Yuanchao, who heads the Party’s Organisation Department and has close ties to Mr. Hu, are expected to join Mr. Xi and Mr. Li on the body. Who will fill the other three positions remains in doubt.

The fate of Wang Yang, the Party secretary in Guangdong who is seen as a liberal leader and a backer of reforms, has emerged as a key issue among competing factions, the sources said. Mr. Hu is keen to promote Mr. Wang, who has, however, attracted criticism for his outspoken style and is seen by some as a counter on the liberal right to purged Politburo member Bo Xilai, who had stirred controversy with his neo-Maoist policies.

Passing amendments to the Party’s constitution is likely to be a more straightforward issue.

The last major revision was in 2002, when Mr. Jiang’s ideological contribution, known as the “Three Represents”, was incorporated before he stepped down. It referred to the Party representing “advanced social productive forces”; “advanced culture”; and “the interests of the overwhelming majority”, seen as a move to make the CPC more inclusive and to open it up to different sections, such as the business community.

As part of the proposed amendment, Mr. Hu’s philosophy, known as the “Scientific Outlook on Development” stressing balanced growth, is expected to be written in, along with the Party’s main achievements of the past decade.

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