7 things to know about Third Plenum

China's Third Plenum kicks off on Saturday. Here are seven things you should know about the historic summit.

China's President Xi Jinping

China's President Xi Jinping Photo: Getty Images

What is its full name?

The Third Plenary Session of the 18th CPC Central Committee

What is it and where is it?

The four-day summit kicks off in Beijing on Saturday and will see some of China's top leaders gather behind closed doors to discuss the country's future.

The plenum's venue is cloaked in secrecy but previous meetings have convened at the Jingxi Hotel in west Beijing. The secluded and heavily-policed Soviet-era hotel has hosted the Communist Party's great and good for nearly half a century. Travel website Trip Advisor ranks it as the 547th best hotel in Beijing but it has been praised for its multilingual receptionists.

Who will be there?

The plenum will be attended by 376 highly influential Communist Party officials who were selected at the 18th Party Congress last November. That group is made up of the 205 full members of China's Central Committee as well as that committee's 167 alternate members.

The two most important members of that committee are Xi Jinping, general secretary of the CPC Central Committeeand and China's political and military commander-in-chief, and Li Keqiang, China's premier.

Why is the plenum important?

While the name hardly sets the pulse racing, China's Third Plenums have historically been the events at which Chinese leaders have presented their long-term visions for the country's economy.

This year's plenum, which comes one year after Xi Jinping became the president, is to set the tone for China's development and reform in the next decade.

Although China has become the second largest economy in the world through the reform and opening-up drive since 1978, it is now facing such serious challenges as faltering economy, a widening wealth gap, deteriorating environment and rising social conflicts.

Fortunately, the Chinese leadership is aware of this and began to shift their policy priorities aimed at achieving a balanced, coordinated and sustained economic development.

What has happened in the past?

Beijing has already set expectations high, with state media drawing parallels with the historic 1978 plenum which Deng Xiaoping used as a springboard for his dramatic overhaul of China's economy.

That plenum, which came two years after Chairman Mao's death, paved the way for China's opening to the world and the country's once-inconceivable transformation over the last three decades into an economic colossus and global super power.

The 1993 plenum is also hailed as a landmark meeting at which Jiang Zemin opened the door for reforms that led to China's entry into the World Trade Organisation.

What will be discussed?

The Chinese economy will take centre stage at this year's plenum.

Observers will be looking for indications of if and how President Xi intends to guide his country towards a more sustainable economic growth model supported by consumption rather than investment.

The plenum may also indicate how far Beijing is prepared or able to go in challenging China's state-owned monopolies.

Other issues likely to be on the menu are social reforms including possible changes to China's controversial household registration system. Such changes might allow rural migrants greater rights in their new urban homes such as access to health care and education.

New land reform policies that would allow farmers to sell their rural properties are also on the cards, as is tax reform and family planning rules. Environmental issues and the question of corruption may also be on the agenda.

What are they saying about it?

Yu Zhengsheng, a Politburo standing committee member, has promised "unprecedented" economic and social reforms that will trigger "profound transformations in the economy, society and other spheres."

Xinhua says the meeting "is expected to set the tone for the country's future development" and will "push forward arduous reform tasks".

Some observers have offered similarly enthusiastic appraisals but most are far more cautious, pointing out that vested interests means any sudden, bold reform is hard to envisage.

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