China’s governing Communist Party will hold its 20th congress on October 16, with President Xi Jinping expected to secure a third term and cement his place as the country’s most powerful leader since Mao Zedong.

The Politburo on Tuesday announced the start date for the meeting held every five years, which typically lasts about a week and takes place mostly behind closed doors at the Great Hall of the People on the western side of Tiananmen Square in central Beijing.

President Xi is expected to exert largely unchallenged control over key appointments and policy directives.

Despite a moribund economy, the COVID-19 pandemic and rare public protests to rising frictions with the West and tensions over Taiwan, Xi is positioned to secure a third term in power to pursue his grand vision for the “rejuvenation of the Chinese nation” for years to come.

Xi, 69, has steadily consolidated power and eliminated space for dissent and opposition since becoming party general secretary a decade ago. China has also become far more assertive on the global stage as an alternative leader to the US-led, post-World War II order.

“He will take China to an even more Sino-centric approach to policy, particularly foreign policy,” Steve Tsang, director of the University of London’s SOAS China Institute, told the Reuters news agency. “He will also reinforce the importance of the party leading everything in China, and the party following its leader fully,” Tsang said.

Xi’s likely ascendancy to a third five-year term, and possibly more, was set in 2018 when he eliminated the limit of two terms for the presidency.

What is the Communist Party congress?

The event will see about 2,300 Communist Party delegates from across the country descend on Beijing in a highly choreographed exercise to pick members of the party’s Central Committee of approximately 200 members.

The new Central Committee’s first plenum, held the day after the Congress ends, will select from its ranks 25 members for the Politburo and its all-powerful Standing Committee – China’s highest leadership body and apex of power, currently comprised of seven people.

Xi is expected again to be conferred the roles of General Secretary of the Communist Party and Chairman of the Central Military Commission.

With little change expected in broad policy direction, key outcomes from the Congress will revolve around personnel: who will join Xi on the Politburo Standing Committee (PSC) and who will replace Premier Li Keqiang, who is set to retire in March.

Contenders to be premier, a role charged with management of the economy, include Wang Yang, 67, who heads a key a political advisory body, and Hu Chunhua, 59, a vice premier. Both were previously the Communist Party boss of the powerhouse southern province of Guangdong.

Another possibility for the premiership is Chen Min’er, 61, a Xi protege who is party chief of the vast municipality of Chongqing but has never held nationwide office.

“Most people will not be surprised to see that Xi Jinping will have a third term. I think this has been lined up for a while,” Alfred Wu Muluan, a Chinese politics expert and associate professor at the National University of Singapore, told the AFP news agency.

Crackdowns on opposition

During Xi’s decade-long rule in power, there have been crackdowns on corruption within the party, but analysts have said they served to take down political rivals, as well as crushing a pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong and strict COVID lockdowns on cities to curb the spread.

He has faced harsh human rights criticism from the international community for repressive policies in the northwestern Xinjiang region, which have seen an estimated one million Uighurs and other Muslim minorities detained in a sweeping crackdown ostensibly targeting “terrorism”.

He ushered in an assertive “Wolf Warrior” foreign policy that has alienated Western democracies and some of China’s regional neighbours, and has also pushed for closer ties with Russia while cultivating domestic nationalism.