Xi Jinping, China’s president, front row center, and other leaders and delegates attend the closing session of the 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing. (Photographer: Qilai Shen/Bloomberg)

Rare China Schedule Changes Suggest Major Policy Meeting Is Near

(Bloomberg) -- A rare flurry of schedule changes by regional legislatures across China suggests that President Xi Jinping may be clearing the calendar for a long-awaited Communist Party gathering later this month.

Nearly half of China’s 31 regions that normally hold annual legislative and advisory meetings have suddenly rescheduled them this month, to create a window from January 19 to 22. That’s the usual length of time required for a full meeting of the party’s Central Committee, which involves more than 200 officials from the government, military and state-owned enterprises.

In some cases, the schedule changes came shortly after provinces had announced their dates. Anhui, part of China’s breadbasket west of Shanghai, had initially set the date of its gathering on December 21.

Rare China Schedule Changes Suggest Major Policy Meeting Is Near

“The central committee’s fourth plenum is likely to be held during the gap between provincial people’s congresses,” said Willy Lam, adjunct professor at the Center for China Studies at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. “The reschedule is very unusual, a rare move that we haven’t seen since the Cultural Revolution” more than four decades ago.

Facing Skepticism

The date of the plenum is being closely watched as investors look to see if the party takes action to resolve a trade war that has rattled global markets. It has used past plenums to signal major reforms, including a call for the market to play a “decisive role” in the economy, loosening China’s birth policy, and scrapping presidential term limits.

The plenum was widely expected to be held before the end of 2018, allowing more time before the annual National People’s Congress in March. That’s when the legislature sets its agenda -- including personnel reshuffles or key reforms -- for the year.

While China hasn’t offered any explanation for a delay, some analysts said it may reflect tension among senior leaders over Xi’s strategy as the economic growth slows and the trade war begins to bite.

“The Central Committee is divided,” said Jean-Pierre Cabestan, a professor at Hong Kong Baptist University who has written books about Chinese politics. “Xi needs more time to prepare and to convince most central committee members about the way to go and the decisions to be made.”

Read more: China’s Top Lawmakers to Hold National People’s Congress March 5

It would be the party’s fourth Central Committee conclave since Xi secured a second term as the party’s general secretary in October 2017. Last year, the group proposed repealing term limits in a move that was subsequently endorsed by lawmakers, paving the way for Xi to stay in power indefinitely in a formal break from decades-long succession rules.

In the run-up to the meeting this year, the government has fueled speculation it might lift remaining birth restrictions in a bid to bolster its aging work force.

Here are the regions that rescheduled meetings:

RegionOld DateNew Date
AnhuiJan. 22Jan. 14
TianjinJan. 20Jan. 14
BeijingJan. 18Jan. 14
FujianJan. 16Jan. 14
ZheijiangJan. 21Jan. 26
GuangxiJan. 20Jan. 26
HebeiJan. 14Jan. 13
ChongqingJan. 20Jan. 24
GuizhouJan. 21Jan. 27
HainanJan. 22Jan. 27
YunanJan. 22Jan. 27
LiaoningJan. 22Jan. 16

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