China unveils new leadership, dominated by key Xi Jinping allies

The Chinese President Xi Jinping vowed to "work diligently" after securing a historic third term as China's leader.

October 23, 2022 10:04 am | Updated 07:51 pm IST - Beijing:

New Politburo Standing Committee members Xi Jinping, Li Qiang, Zhao Leji, Wang Huning, Cai Qi, Ding Xuexiang and Li Xi meet the media following the 20th National Congress of the Communist Party of China, in Beijing on October 23, 2022

New Politburo Standing Committee members Xi Jinping, Li Qiang, Zhao Leji, Wang Huning, Cai Qi, Ding Xuexiang and Li Xi meet the media following the 20th National Congress of the Communist Party of China, in Beijing on October 23, 2022 | Photo Credit: Reuters

Chinese leader Xi Jinping began his unprecedented third five-year term on October 23, 2022 in even firmer control of the ruling Communist Party after filling the newly announced Politburo Standing Committee (PBSC) with all of his allies.

As many as four allies of Mr. Xi (69) were on October 23, 2022 appointed to the PBSC that was announced after the first meeting of the new Central Committee, which was unveiled on October 22, 2022 following the conclusion of the week long CPC congress.

With two other allies continuing on the PBSC, this marks an unprecedented clean sweep of all seven positions on the all-powerful body, a first in Chinese Communist Party politics where power in the past was shared between different party factions, an arrangement shattered by Mr. Xi.

Also read | Profile: Xi Jinping | The princeling’s next decade

Mr. Xi introduced the new leadership to the media on October 23, 2022, in order of rank as Li Qiang, the former party chief in Shanghai; Zhao Leji, former head of the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection (CCDI); Wang Huning, the ideology czar; Cai Qi, the former Beijing party chief; Ding Xuexiang, Mr. Xi’s chief of staff; and Li Xi, the party chief in the key economic powerhouse province of Guangdong.

Second-ranked Mr. Li is likely to take over from outgoing Premier Li Keqiang as the new Premier in March despite criticism of the draconian Shanghai lockdown earlier this year, a sign seen by some observers as reaffirmation of the “zero-COVID” regime, while Mr. Zhao is likely to head the National People’s Congress, or Parliament. Mr. Li was on Saturday appointed as the new head of the powerful CCDI, the anti-corruption agency.

Introducing the leadership, Mr. Xi said, “we will not be daunted by high winds, choppy waters or dangerous storms.” The CPC, he said, “can only become invincible if it remains committed to self-reform”.

“The world is grappling with unprecedented challenges,” he said. "Just as China cannot develop in isolation from the world, the world needs China for its development,” he added, noting that the Chinese economy, which grew only 0.4% in the second quarter, has been weighed down by COVID lockdowns, and presents Mr. Xi his biggest domestic challenge, still had “great resilience”.

The CPC also named its 24 member Politburo. Foreign Minister Wang Yi (69) promotion to the body suggests he will take over as top diplomat from retiring Yang Jiechi, while the appointment of He Lifeng suggests he will be Mr. Xi’s new economic czar and in charge of shaping economic policy. There were no women in the entire Politburo, a first in 25 years.

The CPC congress, a usually tightly choreographed affair, concluded on Saturday with two surprises, both of which underlined Mr. Xi’s dominance A frail-looking former leader Hu Jintao (79), once a power centre in the party in his own right and more recently known to be in ill-health, was unexpectedly escorted off stage.

The second surprise was the exclusion of former Premier Li Keqiang and formerly fourth-ranked PBSC member Wang Yang - both allies of Mr. Hu - from the new Central Committee that was announced at the congress. Their early retirements paved the way for Sunday’s clean sweep of the Party’s highest body for Mr. Xi and his allies.

China’s Next Leaders

In the top-ranking Politburo Standing Committee, all six leaders share close personal and long-standing ties with Mr. Xi. Second-ranked Li Qiang (63) worked as Mr. Xi’s chief of staff in Zhejiang Province where he was Party chief in the mid-2000s.

Zhao Leji (62) like Mr. Xi has roots in Shaanxi Province and more recently led Mr. Xi’s anti-corruption crackdown, which also eliminated many of his rivals, as head of the CCDI. Wang Huning (67) has served as Mr. Xi’s key ideological czar - he also served former leaders Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao - and is seen as the brains behind many of Mr. Xi’s campaigns and as his top speechwriter. Cai Qi (67) served as the director of Mr. Xi’s office when he served in the province of Fujian, and more recently as the Director of the General Office of the National Security Committee.

Ding Xuexiang (60), the youngest member of the new PBSC, served as Mr. Xi’s chief of staff as Director of the General Office of the Party Central Committee, its key nodal body. He also served as Mr. Xi’s chief of staff when he was the party secretary of Shanghai province, and in the previous term, both Mr. Ding and Mr. Wang regularly accompanied Mr. Xi on all of his foreign travels.

Li Xi (66), who takes over as head of the CCDI, has family ties with Mr. Xi going back to the 1980s, when he worked for Li Ziqi, a close associate and friend of Mr. Xi’s father, Xi Zhongxun. He was later the party secretary of the former revolutionary base of Yan’an, which also has close links with the Xi family.

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