BEIJING: Over 370 top officials of China's ruling Communist Party on Monday began the much-delayed four-day plenary session, regarded as a politically significant conclave for President Xi Jinping due to the growing unease in the party ranks over protests in Hong Kong, trade war with the US and slowdown of the economy.
The closed-door meeting of the plenary also known as plenum began this morning here with Xi, 66, who emerged as the most powerful leader after Mao Zedong since he came to power in 2012 doubling up as General Secretary of the Communist Party of China (CPC) and head of the military besides Presidency, presenting a work report.
Xi delivered the work report and explained a draft document of the CPC Central Committee's decision on major issues concerning how to uphold and improve the system of socialism with Chinese characteristics and advance the modernisation of China's system and capacity for governance, the state-run Xinhua news agency reported.
While much of the deliberations of the plenum would remain confidential, observers say a host of issues including the prolonged violent protests in Hong Kong which now entered the 21st week, the phase one deal next month to end the over year-long bruising trade war with the US and continued slowdown of China's economy were expected to figure in the agenda.
On the foreign policy front, informed sources said Xi's recent visit to Mamallapuram for his second informal summit with Prime Minister Narendra Modi is also expected to figure at the meeting.
China is also deeply concerned over the aggressive US policy to strategically contain its efforts to expand global influence through initiatives like the multi-billion-dollar Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).
The plenary session comprising roughly over 370 members of the Central Committee is a high-powered decision-making body.
It mostly consists of senior party leaders, officials of the military and heads of the state-owned enterprises.
This is the fourth plenary session after the 2017 party congress which ushered in Xi's second term in office. The last plenum was held in February, 2018.
The meeting is long overdue as typically CPC holds seven plenums in five years to periodically to review the policies of the leadership.
"It is the first full meeting of the Central Committee in nearly 20 months, the longest interval between two plenums in recent decades", the Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post reported last week.
"The wait, seen by some China-watchers as a delay, has fuelled much speculation about discord within the party, as it grapples with headwinds from a trade war with the United States, slowing economic growth and political crisis in Hong Kong, it said.
Ahead of the meeting, speculation is rife about the lack of shared views among the top echelon of the party about the crisis faced by China on various fronts.
Observers say the significance of the top decision-making bodies of the CPC declined in recent years considering Xi's emergence as the most powerful leader since he took over the leadership in 2012 firmly established his stamp of authority, doing away with the past system of collective leadership.
Xi was re-elected for a second five-year tenure last year by the National People's Congress (NPC) which also scrapped the two-term rule for the President, paving the way for his lifelong tenure.
Currently the party's focus in recent months remained how to handle the massive pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong.
Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam, who functioned under the CPC authority, followed a flip-flop policy to deal with the mass protests over the extradition bill which sparked fears among local people that those facing criminal charges could be extradited to the mainland.
In the last 21 weeks, Lam first refused to withdraw the bill and later declared it dead but declined to meet the protestors demand to completely scrap it.
As the agitation increasingly turned violent and with the protests continuing, Lam-led local government last Wednesday officially withdrew the bill in the local legislature in what was seen as a setback to the hardline policy followed by the CPC leadership in handling the protests in the former British colony.
Also, the plenary meeting is taking place as China and the US have broadly agreed over the contours of "phase one" deal to end over yearlong bruising trade war which negatively impacted China's economy.
The world's second-largest economy in the last several years remained on a slowdown mode. The phase one deal was expected to be signed next month.
The talks so far were deadlocked as China resisted US President Donald Trump's demand for intrusive verification mechanism to supervise Beijing's promise for protection of Intellectual Property Rights (IPR), technology transfer and more access to American goods to Chinese markets.
Trump kicked off the trade war in June last year demanding China to reduce massive trade deficit which climbed to over USD 539 billion in 2018.
"The point of this plenum is to institutionalise the party's effort to strengthen its absolute and comprehensive leadership of the country and society since the 19th party congress," political analyst Chen Daoyin told the Post.
Official media reports said the meeting would focus on more administrative and economic reforms.