China’s top leader Xi Jinping will begin a third term with greater concentration of power after the leaders of the main parties withdrew from the top governing body to make way for his allies.
The week-long Communist Party Congress ended on Saturday with the inauguration of a new Central Committee – the party’s 200-member central leadership – which will in turn elect a new list of top leaders on Sunday.
Premier Li Keqiang and Wang Yang, neither of whom are considered close to Xi, are not on the Central Committee, meaning they have left China’s highest governing body and will be in full retirement.
Xi is expected to be named party general secretary on Sunday for another five years, paving the way for a possible lifetime rule. At 69, he has passed the informal retirement age of 68 for senior party leaders.
Li and Wang are both 67 years old and eligible to serve another five years under the retirement rules of the party’s top Politburo Standing Committee. Instead, they are retiring early from the party’s pinnacle of power, breaking with the precedents of recent decades.
Li is required to step down as prime minister in March by the country’s constitution, which only allows for two terms. Wang, who heads the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, was previously seen by some as a potential successor to Li.
Their surprise exits open up two more spots on the Standing Committee for Xi to fill with his allies and protégés. Two other members of the body have passed the retirement age and will leave their position.
The permanent commission, which fills the body with Xi loyalists, “would change the power-sharing arrangement that China has seen since the late 1970s,” according to Victor Shih, an expert on Chinese elite politics at the University of California, San Diego.
“Informally, Xi Jinping’s powers are (already) very high. He restructured the military, purged the security apparatus in other ways, but formally speaking in the Standing Committee of the Politburo, even now, there is a balance of power where officials who historically had no connection to it still had seats – that may end. ” Shih said, adding that the outcome could create an “unhealthy dynamic” where Xi is surrounded by people who are not used to giving critical opinions on politics.
Several of Xi’s protégés or elite allies have been seen by elite political observers as candidates for promotion. 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 – faced a fierce public backlash earlier this year over the city’s painful two-month Covid lockdown.
Hu Chunhua, 59, vice premier outside Xi’s orbit and previously touted as a possible successor to Xi, will be watched in 2017.
The party’s five-yearly national convention is a carefully crafted political theater intended to demonstrate the party’s unity and legitimacy.
But Saturday’s closing ceremony at the Great Hall of the People had a dramatic moment when former Supreme Leader Hu Jintao unexpectedly walked out of the ceremony.
Hu, 79, was sitting prominently at the stage table, directly next to his successor Xi, when a staff member approached him, according to images and videos of the meeting.
The circumstances surrounding his departure are unclear, but he initially appeared eager to leave. The public has seen increasingly poor health in recent years.
CNN was censored on air in China for reporting Hu’s departure.
The party congress did not expect that among some Chinese experts, Xi could be cut off with new party titles, new honorary titles or his political ideology, already contained in the party charter, formally “Xi Jinping Thought”. he was closer to the status of Mao Zedong, the founding father of Communist China.
But many of Xi’s policies and political slogans were added to the party charter, including phrases that establish his core status in the central leadership and the entire party.
The change to the party charter – approved by nearly 2,300 delegates in a ceremonial vote – also includes one of Xi’s signature phrases: “struggle”. The term is also used by Xi when he talks about the challenges and perceived threats facing the party and the country, both at home and abroad.
“Dare to fight, dare to win, bury your heads and work hard, be determined to keep going,” Xi told delegates in his closing speech.
The parties’ letter was also changed to “resolutely oppose and support Taiwan’s independence”. The Communist Party claims the autonomous democratic island as its territory, although it has never controlled it.
At the closing ceremony, delegates also approved the work report of the party’s 19th Central Committee, a summary of which was given by Xi at the opening of the congress last Sunday.
The labor report praised Xi’s leadership, saying that the party with him at the core has led China through a “grim and complex international situation” and “a succession of enormous risks and challenges”.
Steve Tsang, director of the University of London’s SOAS China Institute, said that unlike the previous conference, where Xi outlined a vision for China and a brief roadmap to achieve that vision, Xi merely reiterated the importance of doubling down on the current path. especially when dealing with headwinds.
“The main source of headwinds is the evil foreign power, especially the US, which tries to keep China down, so it has demanded the Chinese people to follow even more the patriotic banner that the CCP spreads and is headed by the ‘great’ none other than the CCP leader Xi Jinping himself.” , he said.
“This is good news for Xi, but bad news for China and the rest of the world.”