Beijing, China (CNN) -- China's top leadership on Friday kicked off a meeting to focus on the country's handover of power in 2012 and the nation's next five-year plan.
The 300 members of the Communist Party's Central Committee have gathered in Beijing for the four-day plenary.
All eyes are on Vice President Xi Jinping, who is expected to assume the presidency when Hu Jintao steps down after his second and final term in 2012.
But whether Xi is on track to succeed Hu will depend on whether the plenum elects him vice chairman of the Central Military Commission, a powerful group that oversees the 2 million-strong People's Liberation Army.
The post is important symbolically and practically. Without it, 57-year-old Xi would remain an outsider in military affairs. His appointment would follow tradition. Hu was promoted to the position years before he got the party's top job.
The policy-making body also will consider proposals for China's next five years of economic and social development. The leaders are expected to decide guidelines, goals, tasks and key measures, as well as review China's economic and social development over the past five years.
Despite 30 years of astonishing economic growth, the nation faces a host of intractable challenges: a growing gap between the rich and poor, rising unemployment, environmental issues and corruption.
The blueprint for the next five years will call for development of strategic industries, including information technology, biotech and energy-saving technologies, Chinese media reports say.
2011-15 will be critical for building a moderately prosperous society, state-run media said Friday, citing the Central Committee's Political Bureau.
"It would be a time of difficult issues for deepening the reform and opening up process while accelerating the transformation of the nation's economic development pattern," the bureau announced last month, according to the Xinhua news agency.
China's leaders are under political pressure. Supporters of jailed dissident Liu Xiaobo are agitating for the release of the freshly minted Nobel Peace Prize winner. A group of prominent Chinese intellectuals also has published a strongly worded open letter, calling for freedom of speech.
The number of "mass incidents" -- large demonstrations, labor strikes, farmer protests -- also are on the rise. Often, they deteriorate into violence, disorder and greater repression.
But corruption will remain one of the toughest challenges for China's next leader. Corruption drains the public coffers. It also undermines the legitimacy of the Communist Party and fuels social unrest.
The party leaders are discussing "good governance" measures to curb corruption, though it's unclear whether they will finalize them at the four-day plenary.
CNN's Jaime FlorCruz contributed to this report.