Speculation that Xi Jinping, the Chinese President, is looking to extend his rule beyond the conventional 10-year period is growing as Communist Party chiefs attend a four-day Beijing conference purportedly to discuss ideology and long-term policy objectives.
Analysts expect that the almost 400 senior party leaders will be engaged in bitter in-fighting over Xi's succession.
The meeting, which is officially called the Sixth Plenum of the 18th Central Committee of the Communist Party, is expected to draw up the agenda for next year's 19th party congress, when Xi could announce his successor.
But Chinese observers are predicting that the declaration could be delayed, fuelling speculation that Xi is seeking to become the first leader since Deng Xiaoping to remain in power beyond the 10-year period of office.
AdvertisementAdvertise with NZME.
Xi assumed the leadership of the Communist Party by becoming general secretary in late 2012.
He is expected to stand down in 2022, before relinquishing his other titles, including President of China.
Steven Tsang, professor of Chinese studies at the University of Nottingham, said Xi could seek to extend his rule by using the conference to ensure key allies retain their positions - specifically in China's Cabinet - which is known as the politburo standing committee.
Five of its seven members - all except Xi and Li Keqiang, the prime minister - are expected to step down after reaching the mandatory retirement age of 68 at next year's party congress.
But Xi will try to "bend the rule" to keep close friend Wang Qishan in office, Tsang told the Daily Telegraph.
"If he can do that, he will keep his most powerful ally in place and indicate he may stay on for a third term," he said.
"Many in the top echelon of the party do not want to see that, and so being able to do so will speak volumes."