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China’s Xi carries out biggest reshuffle as CPC leaders meet

Beijing: In an “extremely rare” reshuffle, more than half senior officials of China’s ruling Communist Party were removed or moved to new positions as it kicked off a four-day meet today to chart a blueprint for next five years to halt the slide of the world’s second-largest economy.

The meeting, called the Fifth Plenum and held every three years to review functioning of the Communist Party of China (CPC), is happening for the first time since 62-year-old Xi Jinping took over as president in March 2013.

Over half of Central Committee members, elected during the 18th National Congress in 2012, have been moved to different positions or removed from their current jobs ahead of CPC’s fifth plenary session, state-run Global Times reported today.

According to the report, the reshuffle is “extremely rare” in the history of the CPC, a result, said observers of the anti-graft campaign, which has been of unprecedented severity, and to guarantee a solid start to China’s new five-year blueprint amid a slowing economy.
A WeChat account of Beijing’s Party organ newspaper, the Beijing Daily, revealed that a total of 104 out of the 205 CPC Central Committee members have been promoted, demoted or expelled from their positions since 2012.

The purge is seen as an effort by Xi, who has emerged as the strongest leader since Deng Xiaoping, to consolidate his power on the Party, removing a number of old-guard leaders.
Xi, currently the CPC General-Secretary, President and Chief of the military, took over from Hu Jintao in Party’s 18th Congress in late 2012.

The meeting is being held in the backdrop of the biggest anti-corruption campaign by Xi, who is set to remain in power till 2022.

A number of top officials and thousands of middle and lower-rung officials, including former National Security chief Zhou Yangkong, have been punished. Over 40 military officials also faced investigations in the unprecedented campaign.

Discussion of the 13th Five-Year Plan is on the agenda of the plenary session, which will be presided over by Xi.

The plenary meeting mainly review proposals for a new five-year plan for the country’s national economic and social development from 2016-2020, state-run Xinhua news agency reported amid speculation that the government may cut down the GDP target from 7 per cent to 6.5 per cent.

Like previous five-year plans, a GDP growth target is likely to be included. Market estimates that the growth target for 2016-2020 will be put between 6.5 and 7 per cent, it said.

A final plan, after taking into account these proposals, will be formally ratified by the annual session of China’s national legislature, the National People’s Congress (NPC) in March next year before taking effect.

In the reshuffle, 81 were promoted to key positions, 16 were transferred to less important posts, and seven were removed from their jobs, the report said.

Some of the members may have their membership revoked during the fifth plenary session of the 18th CPC Central Committee that runs until Thursday, experts said.

“The large-scale reshuffle helped select leaders of both action and bravery, as China needs such leaders to tackle the economic problems and ensure a strong start during the 13th Five-Year Plan (2016-20) period,” Zhang Xixian, a professor with the Party School of the CPC Central Committee.

The reshuffle will also pave the way for a smooth government leadership transition starting from 2016, said Ren Jianming, professor at the School of Public Policy and Management at Beijing’s Tsinghua University.

Many of the 81 members newly-promoted to key positions were transferred from more marginal positions and jobs in remote areas, the Beijing Daily reported.

The meeting is also taking in the back drop of China entering “new normal” of slowdown with the GDP slipping below 7 per cent for the first time since 2009.

China’s economy expanded 6.9 per cent in the third quarter of 2015, the first time quarterly growth has dropped below 7 per cent since the second quarter of 2009, the height of the global recession.

Other poor figures also added to the disappointment. Industrial production was lower than expected, with September growth at a six-month low.

Fixed-asset investment continued to slow and power use was also weak. The new five-year plan has henceforth garnered increasing attention from observers both home and abroad.

So far, few details of the new plan, the first of its kind under the leadership of Xi has been made available to the general public, although authorities said they have previously solicited public opinions on the new plan in a limited scope.

The plenary session also expected to finalise measure to uplift 70.17 million Chinese who remained below the poverty line despite the massive development.

Officials say China has lifted more than 600 million people out of poverty, accounting for about 70 per cent of those brought out of poverty worldwide.

Despite this, China still has 70.17 million people in the countryside living below the country’s poverty line of 2,300 yuan (USD 376) in annual income at the end of last year.