China’s Party Congress: Top leaders to be revealed as Xi Jinping clings to power


China’s ruling Communist Party will unveil its top leadership for the next five years today, bringing to the culmination of a month of closed-door preparations, with leader Xi Jinping expected to extend his iron grip on power to a rule-breaking third term surrounded by allies. .

The new members of the party’s Politburo Standing Committee, China’s most powerful decision-making body, will make their first appearance in Beijing on Sunday, ranking first as the faces who will sit atop the party and drive the world’s second-largest economy for the next half-decade.

This year’s event, which comes one day after the end of the five-yearly Party Congress, is the culmination and most closely watched of decades.

A preview of the sweeping reshuffle to be unveiled on Sunday was seen at the end of the Congress, when the two top heavyweights not in Xi’s inner circle – including China’s current number two Li Keqiang – did not join the party’s Central Committee, which is They have stepped down from China’s highest governing body and will take full retirement.

That will likely see Xi – expected to break with recent precedent for a third term in power – head a Standing Committee whose rivals have been largely eliminated, formally changing what had been the party’s entrenched power-sharing structure for decades. upper level

Saturday’s events were interrupted by an unexpected scene when Xi’s immediate predecessor Hu Jintao, who is 79 and has seen frail health in recent years, was ushered out of the Great Hall of the People from where he had sat next to Xi for reasons. this was not immediately clear, although Hu initially appeared eager to leave.

While Xi’s ideologies and priorities were further embraced and elevated by the party at the close of the Party Congress, Sunday will be the final flourish for a leader seen as consolidating power by eliminating rivals and diminishing the lingering influence of party elders of late. the years

“The transition of power at the 20th Party Congress offered (Xi) an opportunity to completely reshape the (Standing Committee) and install his close associates in most – if not all – positions. If he manages to do that, he will definitely have full control of the power structure,” Yang Zhang, an assistant professor at American University’s School of International Service.

The composition of the Standing Committee, a seven-member body made up of ethnic Han Chinese men in recent years, will say much about the state of Xi’s influence within the black box of elite politics, and whether he intends to maintain it. power for the fourth term.

The new standing committee, and the larger 25-member Politburo of which it is a part, are formally appointed by a rubber stamp of about 200 members of the Communist Party’s Central Committee, which was formed at the end of the Party. Congress – although the real decisions about who fills the party’s top posts are made in the months before, in closed-door discussions between senior party leaders.

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An indication of Xi’s power came on Saturday when it became clear that two members of the current body who are not in his inner circle, China’s second leader and premier Li and Wang Yang, both 67, would retire a year early. standard retirement age. Xi, at 69, is a year above that informal limit.

Xi’s protégés or elite allies of Chinese politics watchers have pointed to those vacant seats and two other candidates left open by the retirements of minors Li Zhanshu and Han Zheng.

They include Chongqing party chief Chen Min’er, 62, one of Xi’s longtime allies and protégés, Ding Xuexiang, 60, who heads the Communist Party General Office, a position similar to Xi’s chief of staff, and Shanghai’s party chief. Li Qiang, 63 years old.

A top body full of loyalists would “further weaken” high-level power sharing, according to Chen Gang, senior research fellow at the National University of Singapore’s East Asia Institute.

“(In this case) Xi is no longer first among equals, as his predecessors were. However, he still has to share power with other members of the standing committee, even if they were loyal to him before joining the committee,” he said.

They will also be eyeing Hu Chunhua, 59, a vice premier outside Xi’s orbit who has previously been touted as a potential successor to Xi. He was denied promotion to the Standing Committee in 2017, stalling his promotion.

Experts will be watching to see if there will be a young face — and a potential successor — on the standing committee, which could indicate whether Xi has a fourth term in office.

The new power dynamic also heralds a victory for Xi’s agenda to move China forward in the coming years.

“The headline is obvious – Xi Jinping and his team are consolidating their power, the question is for what purpose,” said David Goodman, director of the Center for Chinese Studies at the University of Sydney.

He pointed to potential debates among leaders in recent years about how to advance economic development, how much China has the state and private sector and the immediate economic needs for “shared prosperity” – China’s approach to narrowing the wealth gap.

“What I take away from this conference is common prosperity, which is now enshrined in the party’s constitution,” Goodman said.

In addition to Li and Wang, the ever-shrinking Communist Youth League faction of the political elite led by former leader Hu, there are others who have been known for their pro-market stance – such as financial officials Liu He, Yi Gang. and Guo Shuqing are also no longer part of the Central Committee. The survival of 69-year-old Central Committee member Wang Yi also points to China’s aggressive foreign policy stance.

But even as Xi enters an expected third term, and potentially surrounded by allies, it won’t necessarily be a smooth road, given domestic economic challenges and strained international relations, issues Xi mentioned in his recent speech to the Party Congress. Sunday.

A Standing Committee full of loyalists “doesn’t necessarily mean that Xi will become an all-powerful supreme leader and can do anything. His unlimited power will be limited by his limited powers and declining energy as he ages,” said American University’s Zhang.

Meanwhile, Xi’s partners will split into different blocs and vie for power, with Xi’s total control holding his team accountable for any policy mistakes and potentially triggering a stronger international pushback from the US-led West.

“All these scenarios mean that his third and possibly fourth term will not be as easy as expected,” he said.