China’s new Cabinet hints at Xi’s third term agenda

Foreign Minister Qin Gang was promoted as State Councilor; new Defence Minister General Li Shangfu to push military modernisation 

Updated - March 12, 2023 08:52 pm IST

Published - March 12, 2023 11:52 am IST - Beijing

Chinese Foreign Minister Qin Gang has been elevated to the rank of State Councillor. | File Photo

Chinese Foreign Minister Qin Gang has been elevated to the rank of State Councillor. | File Photo | Photo Credit: Bloomberg

China’s President Xi Jinping on March 12 unveiled a new Cabinet for his third term, with the line-up of officials indicating that the Chinese leader is likely to exercise even greater control on policy-making over the next five years. 

The new Foreign Minister Qin Gang, who was appointed in December, was on Sunday named among the five State Councilors, the third highest-ranking position in the State Council or Cabinet, capping a rapid rise through the diplomatic ranks

Mr. Qin formerly served as a protocol officer for Mr. Xi and was subsequently sent to Washington for his first ambassadorial posting, a position usually occupied by veteran diplomats.

Mr. Qin succeeds Wang Yi as both State Councilor and Foreign Minister. Mr. Wang, at last year’s Communist Party congress, was promoted to the Politburo and to head the party’s Central Foreign Affairs Commission.

Mr. Qin, as State Councilor, could also likely take over from his predecessor as the Special Representative on the India-China border talks, although Mr. Wang could continue in the post, as he is expected to continue playing an active role in China’s diplomacy. Only last week, Mr. Wang was chairing the landmark talks in Beijing between senior officials from Saudi Arabia and Iran.

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Also named as a State Councilor was the new Defence Minister, People’s Liberation Army (PLA) General Li Shangfu. This appointment was also expected given General Li’s promotion to the military’s Central Military Commission last year. Observers in Beijing viewed his selection as noteworthy given his background in military modernisation – General Li spent years in the equipment development department and was even sanctioned in 2018 by the then Donald Trump administration over China’s defence purchases from Russia, including the S-400 surface-to-air missile system. At the NPC, Mr. Xi has highlighted the need for China to pursue self-reliance in strategic sectors with urgency, and also warned of the U.S. looking to contain China.

The annual NPC session, which concludes on Monday, last week formally announced Mr. Xi as President for an unprecedented third-term, as well as approved the appointment of Li Qiang, a former chief of staff of Mr. Xi, as the new Premier.

On Sunday, the appointments of four Vice Premiers under Mr. Li, as well as the five State Councilors below them, were announced. Among the new Vice Premiers are another former chief of staff for Mr. Xi, Ding Xuexiang, and He Lifeng, another associate of Mr. Xi who will become the top official in charge of economic policy.

Mr. He’s appointment was also expected as he was previously running the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC), the top planning body. Most other ministerial portfolios saw officials continuing in their posts from Mr. Xi’s second term, with an apparent emphasis on continuity in policy and economic stability,  including in the key position of governor of the People’s Bank of China – the central bank - where Yi Gang continues for another term.

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