China’s Leaders Prepare to Meet as Elders Slam Censorship of Wen

The Central Committee is meeting in the wake of public condemnation of the party’s track record on freedom of expression by both the Nobel Committee and senior party elders. From Bloomberg:

The 200-odd Central Committee members are set to discuss personnel changes and a new five-year economic plan that starts in 2011. Vice President Xi Jinping may take a position on the party’s military commission, paving the way for him to replace General Secretary and President Hu Jintao, who steps down in late 2012, political analysts say.

In the run-up to the plenum, Wen has called for a relaxation of state control of social and political affairs. At last year’s session, Hu advocated more “intra-party democracy,” to give lower-level officials a greater hand in appointments and policymaking.

“Wen has called for fundamental political reform,” said Victor Shih, a professor at Northwestern University in Evanston Illinois who analyzes Chinese politics. “This may be a ploy by Hu to” to make changes within the party and encompass more radical reforms, he said.

Past plenums have provided turning points in the party’s history. A gathering in 1959 in the mountain resort of Lushan was the scene of a failed move to criticize the economic policies of the late Chairman Mao Zedong, allowing him to cement his leadership. A meeting in 1978 saw the rise of Deng Xiaoping, who led China’s opening to outside investment.