Why the world is watching Xi Jinping and China’s party congress

By the time you read this, one of the most important global political events of the next five years — if not longer — will have begun: the 19th National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party. The event may sound obscure to those uninterested in Sinology. It’s not.

Beginning on Wednesday and expected to last for about a week, the event brings together 2,300 Communist Party members from across China. It’s where the party will select its leadership — and with it, its policies — for the next five years. Given China’s huge population, economy and military strength, the 19th National Congress could set the agenda not only for Beijing, but also for much of the world.

Most observers predict that the congress will put power increasingly in the hands of one man: Xi Jinping.

“What he wants to do is create a very personalized style of leadership where it seems there is no alternative to Xi Jinping in terms of taking the country forward,” said Rana Mitter, a professor of modern Chinese history and politics at the University of Oxford, to The Washington Post’s Beijing bureau chief Simon Denyer recently. “The point of comparison is Vladimir Putin, who also runs a very personalized style of rule.”

There are other, less-savory reference points as well. Stein Ringen, the author of “The Perfect Dictatorship: China in the 21st Century,” writes for The Post that Xi’s state is Leninist. John Pomfret, a former Post bureau chief in Beijing, has a more ominous warning: “Xi has positioned himself as the defender of [Joseph] Stalin’s legacy.”

Such proclamations may be surprising to anyone who has gone to China recently and seen what seems to be an ever-less-ideological society, happy to embrace capitalism when it suits. Xi even presented himself as a defender of international economic cooperation during a speech in Davos at the start of the year, an address many analysts saw as a rebuttal to the protectionist ideas of President Trump. “We must remain committed to developing free trade and investment,” Xi said through a translator.