When the Chinese Communist Party holds its congress in October, the rest of the world will be watching more intently than ever, reflecting the Asian giant's rapidly growing global importance.
The 17th Congress, which opens in Beijing on Oct. 15, could lead to personnel changes in the top echelons of power and will set China's political and economic course for the next five years.
"The whole world is paying attention to China now," said Hu Xingdou (
State media reported late on Tuesday the opening date of the congress, ending months of speculation about the likely timing of the pivotal, five-yearly event.
"The fact that they announced the time of the congress more than a month beforehand suggests that all the preparatory work has been basically completed," an unnamed analyst told the Hong Kong-based Ta Kung Pao daily.
The paper, known to have close links with the Beijing government, said the blueprint for the policies that will emerge from the congress has been provided in President Hu Jintao's (胡錦濤) program known as the "Four Steadfasts."
This confirmed what has already been known for some time -- that Hu is placing an emphasis on narrowing the differences between rich and poor, between city and countryside and between China's prosperous east and its backward west.
"We know the domestic agenda," said David Zweig, a China expert at Hong Kong's University of Science and Technology. "This is really much more about personnel than anything else."
Hu, who has a strong power base among leaders groomed in the ranks of the Communist Youth League, will almost definitely receive a second five-year term as head of the ruling party, analysts agree.
There is similarly no suggestion that Premier Wen Jiabao (溫家寶) will be shunted aside.
Hu is then widely expected to move at the congress to strengthen his authority by maneuvering supporters and allies into top positions, who could then take over following the end of his next five-year tenure in 2012.
A series of scandals in which ranking political leaders have been removed amid allegations of corruption and rumors of sexual misconduct have been seen as part of the cloak-and-dagger politics.
"Playing around with the ladies will certainly play around with your career," said Zweig, arguing that the Communist Youth League faction is seeking to present itself in a positive light by comparison. "They can argue that they are much purer. They're dominated largely by the goal of strengthening China. They are the party that doesn't party."
While the Communist Youth League faction may be politically adroit, there are increasing signs of unease among Chinese at all levels about the idea that one group of people can dominate politics to such an extent.
Hu's personal drive for a "harmonious society" often appears to be at odds with rising unrest across the country, with people protesting over all manner of social problems that often stem from corruption within the ruling ranks.
However, Hu seems to very much have the upper hand, and many observers find it hard to point to any potential rival force.
"My own sense is that there's not going to be very much counterweight. My sense is that this is Hu's party Congress, and he's going to be able to put his people in," Zweig said.