Even as Chinese officials have maintained a steady silence on when the Party Congress — the most important meeting in a decade — will be convened, the government has put in place security measures and issued corruption warnings — the first indications that the Chinese capital is finally readying for the much-anticipated political gathering.

Sweeping changes

In a few weeks’ time, leaders will assemble here for the Communist Party of China’s (CPC) 18th National Congress, which will herald sweeping changes across the party’s highest levels and choose the next generation of its leaders. In an indication that the meetings are drawing closer, Legal Daily newspaper said in a report on Wednesday that Beijing’s Public Security Bureau, or police authority, had set up a security headquarters here to ensure “stability” ahead of the congress. The security bureau’s chief, Fu Zhenghua, had instructed local police to “reinforce their fighting strength to create a harmonious and stable social environment for the national congress,” the Party-run Global Times reported.

The official Xinhua news agency also reported that Beijing has launched a “joint enforcement campaign” to create a security blanket around Tiananmen Square. The National Congress is expected to be convened at the Great Hall of the People on the square’s western edge.

Among the security measures are a ban on unlicensed vendors, illegal taxis and unofficial tour guides in areas around the square.

While the Congress was earlier widely expected to open in October or November, analysts in Beijing suggest that this week’s announcements may hint at an earlier convening — perhaps even towards the end of next month. The current leadership is still required to hold one last plenary meeting in coming weeks, which will mark an end to the intense jockeying for positions seen over the past year.

The 17th Central Committee — to step down following the Congress — will grapple with finalising the selection of leaders during its seventh (and last) plenary session. Seven of the nine members of all-powerful Politburo Standing Committee — the highest political authority — will step down following this year’s transition. Only Vice-President Xi Jinping — who is likely to succeed Hu Jintao as President and Party General Secretary — and Vice-Premier Li Keqiang — expected to replace Wen Jiabao — will hold on to their posts.

The plenary meeting is under added attention as an announcement on the fate of suspended Politburo member Bo Xilai is expected. Mr. Bo was sacked as Chongqing Party Secretary earlier this year and suspended from the 25-member body following a scandal over the murder of British businessman Neil Heywood by his wife, Gu Kailai.

In a strong message to the next generation of leaders, Politburo Standing Committee member and anti-corruption chief He Guoqiang said this week the party would put in place new measures to curb corruption in a five-year plan. CPC officials, including President Hu Jintao, have recently voiced concern about rising public anger at corruption, describing it as the biggest threat to the party’s legitimacy.


Besides the scandal surrounding Mr. Bo, a high-profile corruption investigation that saw the sacking of Railways Minister Liu Zhijun has brought the issue into the spotlight ahead of the leadership transition. Mr. Liu is expected to stand trial in coming weeks. Earlier this month, he was charged with six disciplinary violations, including taking bribes worth billions of yuan and sexual misconduct, with reports saying that he had as many as 18 mistresses and lived a life of extravagance.

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