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Image of Xi Jinping in the background of a performance during the 100th anniversary of China's Communist Party in Beijing.

Koki Kataoka / The Yomiuri Shimbun via Reuters Connect

What makes Xi Jinping tick?

Later this week, Xi Jinping will get a precedent-shattering third term as secretary-general of China's ruling Communist Party. He's the most influential CCP leader since Deng Xiaoping and has elevated himself to the same stature as Mao Zedong. Xi now has virtually unfettered power in the world's most populous country and second-largest economy.

Yet, we know surprisingly little about him. China’s leader is not on social media, gives few interviews, and his bland public statements and carefully curated official biography offer few clues about what’s on his mind. Although Chinese kids study Xi Jinping Thought, he remains a black box for anyone outside of the CCP elite and those who know him personally.

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Visitors walk past an image of President Xi Jinping holding a ballot ahead of the 20th National Congress of the Communist Party of China in Beijing.

REUTERS/Florence Lo

What We’re Watching: China’s party congress, US-Mexico migrant deal

China's party is having a party

China's ruling Communist Party kicks off its 20th Congress on Sunday. By far the most-followed event in Chinese politics, the CCP will give itself, as always, a (glowing) report card and lay out how it'll govern China until 2027. All eyes will be on Xi Jinping, a shoo-in to get a precedent-shattering third term as CCP secretary-general, paving the way for him to become China’s leader for life. What's more, Xi is also expected to adopt the symbolic title of “Helmsman,” putting him at the same level as Mao Zedong. Perhaps even more importantly, by the end of next week, we'll know the composition of Politburo's elite Standing Committee, whose seven members — including Xi himself — have the final say on major political, economic, and social issues. If the bulk of them are Xi loyalists instead of technocrats, that'll be a signal that he prioritizes political control over the structural reforms China needs to fix its big problems. Finally, keep an eye out for the order in which the seven men step onto the stage of the Great Hall of the People in Beijing. If none of them is in his mid-50s and stands close to Xi, that’ll mean he hasn’t picked a successor yet.

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