The biggest annual event for China's Communist Party begins on Sunday, with President Hu Jintao (
Nearly 500 members of the party's Central Committee and other top cadres will gather for the four-day plenary that has come to be China's most important policy-making event of the year.
But while the party is keen to foster the idea of officials being intent on developing policies in the best interests of the nation, the gathering will be just as closely watched for the political battles expected to be waged.
Sunday's meeting will be held in the wake of last month's sacking of Shanghai party boss Chen Liangyu (
The plenum could see moves to completely evict Chen, who was also suspended as a member of the national 24-member politburo, from the political hierarchy.
Hu's push against Chen has also served as a warning to other officials not to defy the president on political and economic matters, said Beijing lawyer Guan Anping (
"Chen was sacked because he failed to implement the central government's policies and follow Hu Jintao's ideas on building a harmonious society," Guan said. "This is a signal to other leaders that they must follow the party line."
Officially, the highest-level sacking in China in over a decade is linked to the alleged funneling of up to US$400 million from Shanghai's US$1.2 billion retirement fund into real estate and other projects.
But as a member of the so-called "Shanghai clique" of former president Jiang Zemin (江澤民), Chen's demise has been interpreted as the start of a possible purge by Hu of other senior Jiang appointees.
These could include parliamentary head Wu Bangguo (
"One of the main items of the plenum will be setting the agenda for the 17th Party Congress next year when a lot of new political appointments will be made," said Joseph Cheng (
"Hu will want to bring in politicians loyal to him, who can be trusted to advance his policies," he said.
The congress is a five-yearly event which next year will mark the end of Hu's first term as the party's highest ranking official.
He is almost certain to seek a second term while overseeing a widespread reshuffling of the politburo and central committee.
Officially, the main agenda item at the plenum will be "the building of a harmonious socialist society," according to a party statement published by the official Xinhua news agency last month.
Such a society will need an economic policy that better addresses a widening income gap between rich and poor as well as environmental concerns, it said.
Hu's economic agenda is taking major steps away from the policy initiated by the late paramount leader Deng Xiaoping (
This policy, which has resulted in a huge income gap between rich and poor and between the nation's prosperous coastal regions and poor inland areas, was closely followed by Jiang and his allies.