How does China choose its leaders? A Grid No Dumb Questions Video

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‘No Dumb Questions’: Xi Jinping is on the cusp of a third term — how does China choose its leaders?


China’s biggest political event in five years kicks off this weekend. The 20th Party Congress will determine who leads China for the next five years — an enormously consequential decision for a country that carries such global weight. That said, compared to the endless campaign cycles in the U.S., China’s leadership selection process is famously opaque.

One thing is almost certain: Xi Jinping will remain in charge — leading the party as general secretary, his most important position, and as president and head of the military. A third term would cement his reign as China’s most powerful leader since Mao Zedong. It would also break a norm established over the previous decades, under which China’s leaders transferred power after two terms.

As Xi stands poised to make this monumental transition, Grid China Reporter Lili Pike cracks open the black box to explain the basics of how the Chinese Communist Party chooses its leaders. It’s the latest in our video series “No Dumb Questions” — and there is certainly nothing “dumb” about this one. While Xi’s third term seems to be a foregone conclusion, understanding the process is key to deciphering the clues from the party congress as to what might come next.

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Beyond the top spot, there are questions about other key appointments, particularly to the Politburo Standing Committee — a small group of the country’s most powerful leaders. As Pike explains in this week’s episode, this Politburo shuffle could provide hints of a potential successor for Xi if and when he chooses to relinquish power. When that happens is anyone’s guess.

How China chooses its leaders is a vital question for China, for the U.S. and for the world. Pike explains the process — and the stakes — in this week’s video.

More ‘No Dumb Questions’ videos

Thanks to Lillian Barkley for copy editing this article.

  • Lili Pike
    Lili Pike

    China Reporter

    Lili Pike is a China reporter at Grid focused on climate change, technology and U.S.-China relations.

  • Cleo Li-Schwartz
    Cleo Li-Schwartz

    China Reporting Assistant

    Cleo Li-Schwartz is the China reporting assistant at Grid.

  • Jake Garcia
    Jake Garcia

    Associate Producer, Multimedia

    Jake Garcia is a documentary filmmaker and multimedia producer for Grid.

  • Tom Nagorski
    Tom Nagorski

    Global Editor

    Tom Nagorski is the global editor at Grid, where he oversees our coverage of global security, U.S.-China relations, migration trends, global economics and U.S. foreign policy.