The Sixth Plenum: What is it and What Has Been Decided?

Posted by Written by Zoey Zhang Reading Time: 3 minutes

The Sixth Plenum of the 19th Central Committee of the CCP passed a “historical resolution” on November 10, 2021. We provide context.

The Sixth Plenary Session of the 19th Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) (“the Sixth Plenum”), a much-anticipated four-day closed-door Party congress, has concluded and passed a “historical resolution” on November 10, 2021.

What happened

Nearly 350 members and alternate members of the CCP Central Committee have gathered in Beijing since November 8 to review the Resolution on Major Achievements and Historical Experience of the CPC’s 100 Years of Endeavors, which has been touted as being of “historical significance” and is only the third such resolution since the CCP’s foundation 100 years ago.

On the first day of the plenum, the draft resolution was addressed by President Xi Jinping, also the party’s General Secretary, on behalf of the Politburo. In the party’s history, only Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping have enacted so-called historical resolutions, in 1945 and 1981, respectively. Thus, the adoption of the third resolution is interpreted as having elevated Xi to the same level as Mao and Deng.

In a communique issued at the closure of the Sixth Plenum yesterday, Xi is acknowledged as the “principal founder” of his namesake ideological thought, which will carry on the party’s goal of turning China into a “great modern socialist country” by 2049.

In addition to the resolution on major achievements of the CCP, the Central Committee also passed the Resolution on Convening the 20th National Congress of the Party. The 20th National Congress of the Party, which will be held in Beijing in the second half of next year, is expected to rubber-stamp the Sixth Plenum’s deliberations.

Why it matters

As the penultimate plenary session of the 19th Central Committee, the Sixth Plenum has garnered a lot of attention from policy analysts and China investors.

The 19th Central Committee, which was elected in 2017, is supposed to be re-elected after its five-year cycle, which will end when a new committee is appointed at next year’s National Congress.

The resolution adopted on Thursday now sets the stage for next year’s sweeping leadership reshuffle and paves the way for a legacy-defining third term for President Xi.

Development and common prosperity remain top of the agenda

During a press briefing on Friday following the closure of the plenum, the 19th CCP Central Committee indicated that development would remain the top priority for China to realize common prosperity.

Han Wenxiu, an official with the CCP Central Committee for Financial and Economic Affairs, said that “while the issue of distribution is critical, our goal for common prosperity shall not rely merely on distribution.”

It is expected that China will continue to focus on science and technology to move up the global value chain but at the same time secure balanced levels of development through interventions via income policies, tax reforms, public service provision, and “the third distribution” (encouraging charitable donations from higher-income groups and enterprises).

What usually happens at the plenums and how many are held in a term?

Normally, each CCP central committee holds seven plenums during its five-year term. At the plenum, all full and alternate members of the CCP central committee come together to discuss some important decisions and issues, such as changes to party leadership and revisions to its constitution.

These events, held at least once per year, are highly secretive. Little will be revealed until the end of the meeting when a brief communique summarizing the discussions is released to the public.

The prior plenums held by the current 19th Central Committee, elected in 2017, are briefly highlighted below:

  • October 25, 2017

First Plenum – the plenum elected the General Secretary, members of the Standing Committee, and members of the Politburo of the CCP Central Committee.

  • January 18 to 19, 2018

Second Plenum – the plenum examined and approved a Proposal of the CPC Central Committee on Amending Parts of the Constitution.

  • February 26 to 28, 2018

Third Plenum – the plenum passed a list of proposed candidates for the leadership of state authorities and the National Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference. The plenum also endorsed the constitutional amendments that lifted presidential term limits.

  • October 28 to 31, 2019

Fourth Plenum – the plenum adopted a decision on some major issues concerning how to uphold and improve the system of socialism with Chinese characteristics and advance the modernization of China’s system and capacity for governance. The plenum also made an announcement – in vague terms – on Hong Kong’s national security law.

  • October 26 to 29, 2020

Fifth Plenum – the plenum adopted proposals for the formulation of the 14th Five-Year Plan (2021-2025) for National Economic and Social Development and the Long-Range Objectives Through the Year 2035.

The Structure of the Chinese Communist Party
General Secretary Standing Committee Politburo Central Committee National Party Congress Total Communist Party members
Number of members 1 7 25 370 2,200 92,000,000

Why the sixth plenum is so important

The sixth plenum usually focuses on ideology and party building, paving way for the next leadership reshuffle.

The plenums of the CCP central committees often serve as precursors for the introduction of important laws, regulations, and economic plans. Beyond the plenum, further discussions are usually held, which lead to concrete policies.

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