The lineup following the 20th Party Congress has shown the 7 men who will rule China, with all four of the newly selected members being the proteges and allies of Xi.
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The next generation of China’s ruling elites was revealed when the seven men, led by Xi Jinping, strolled down the red carpet at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on October 23.
These powerful individuals are part of the Politburo Standing Committee, the highest ranking body of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). After sessions held behind closed doors where around 370 hand-selected Party representatives approved the committee’s members, current leader Xi is once again in charge of it.
The lineup following the 20th Party Congress shows Xi’s continued consolidation of power because all four of the newly selected members are his proteges and allies.
The following individuals will lead the Party over the ensuing five years.
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No one since Mao has been able to confirm a third five-year term as Party general secretary as Xi has done. Mao controlled China for 27 years before passing away in 1976.
The Chinese leader, who will be announced following the rubber-stamp legislative meetings next spring, is almost certainly to be Xi, who also kept his role as head of the Central Military Commission. In 2018, he changed the constitution to remove term restrictions.
The 69-year-old leader’s lack of a potential replacement raises the possibility that he intends to continue in office until the normal expiration date of 2027.
When Xi entered the Standing Committee for the first time in 2007, it was obvious based on his age and the composition of the committee that he would succeed Hu Jintao as Party leader when Hu’s term finished in 2012.
Currently, Ding Xuexiang, who is 60 years old, is the youngest of the Standing Committee’s seven members, with Xi and five of them being over 65. It implies that none of them would be of an age to lead the Party in 2027. The CCP has a long-standing tradition of retiring members who are 68 or older at the time of the Congress.
Li Qiang, the Party leader of Shanghai, will now hold the No. 2 position within the Party. The most powerful position in the financial hub is frequently viewed as a stepping stone to the CCP’s highest decision-making body. 2017 saw the promotion of Li’s predecessor, Han Zheng, to the Standing Committee.
However, rumours about Li’s political future abounded early this year because to the COVID-19 lockdown in Shanghai. The 25 million people who were confined to their homes for two months struggled to get food and medicine, which infuriated the public and led to several small-scale riots.
According to Feng Chongyi, a professor of China studies at the University of Technology, Li’s political ascent demonstrates that “Xi Jinping’s criteria is the connection with him, absolute loyalty to him, and obedience to him.”
The 63-year-old is a trusted ally of Xi. Li was in charge of Wenzhou, a major city within Zhejiang, when Xi served as the Party secretary of Zhejiang Province. Li became Xi’s right-hand man when he was elevated to secretary-general of Zhejiang in 2004.
Li was promoted to the position of governor of Zhejiang Province by Xi when he took the reins at the 18th National Congress in 2012. Three years later, Li was appointed party secretary of Jiangsu Province, the richest and most powerful province bordering Shanghai. Li was appointed Shanghai’s Party secretary in 2017. Li is currently the front-runner to take over as premier.
One of the two members of the Standing Committee who are still in their seats is anti-corruption czar Zhao Leji. Zhao most recently served as the head of the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection, which was the motivation behind Xi’s drive to purge the Party of political rivals, including those still devoted to previous CCP leader Jiang Zemin.
The 65-year-old also was the head of the Party’s Organization Department, a major organisation in charge of selecting senior leaders. According to the Brookings Institute, Zhao assisted in promoting several of Xi’s allies.
Zhao began his political career in his birthplace, the northwesterly Qinghai Province, rising through the ranks of the provincial administration. In 2003, he was appointed Party secretary for Qinghai. Zhao later served as the Shaanxi Province’s Party chairman until moving to Beijing in 2012.
Wang Huning, a seasoned theorist, is another person who continues to hold a position in the Party’s highest governing body.
The 67-year-old Wang is a rare political figure who has worked under three Party chiefs despite bitter political rivalries and reshufflings that occur only once every five years.
“He [Wang] is not loyal to any leader,” said Feng. “He is just a theorist that the Party found useful.”
The core ideologies of the three leaders—Jiang Zemin’s Three Representatives, Hu Jintao’s Scientific View on Development, and Xi Jinping Thoughts—were defined by a former professor and dean of the law department at Fudan University.
“Wang Huning’s presence also indicates to me that the ideological bent of the Party and Xi will continue and even deepen,” Dylan Loh, assistant professor at Nanyang Technology University, told Reuters.
Cai Qi, a recent addition to the exclusive standing committee, has known Xi for more than 20 years. When Xi held high positions in the provinces of Fujian and Zhejiang, Cai worked under him. Cai was promoted to Beijing after Xi assumed leadership before taking over as the city’s Party chief in 2017. Despite popular outrage over his forced eviction of migrant workers on Beijing’s outskirts, he entered the Politburo that same year.
Cai assumes the position of First Secretary of the Secretariat on October 30 and will be in charge of the Party’s ideology and propaganda operations.
Despite never having served as a provincial-level Party secretary, Ding Xuexiang’s nomination to the Standing Committee comes as no surprise to those who know him as Xi’s right-hand man.
Ding and Xi may have been acquainted back in 2007. Ding was the city’s secretary-general and Xi’s top advisor during the brief time that Xi served as Shanghai’s Party secretary. Just a few months after Xi assumed office in 2013, Ding relocated to Beijing, first serving as the General Office’s deputy director and later as the head of the key office in charge of overseeing the administrative activities of the top leadership.
The 60-year-old has travelled extensively with Xi.
“[Ding] has probably spent more time with Xi Jinping than any other official over the past five years,” Neil Thomas, a senior analyst for China and Northeast Asia at the Eurasia Group, told Reuters.
Another new member of the Standing Committee is Li Xi, Party chief of Guangdong Province, a regional economic powerhouse in the south. According to the Brookings Institute, the 66-year-connection old’s to Xi may be traced via indirect ties to Xi’s late father, Xi Zhongxun, a revolutionary in the Party.
In northwest China, in the provinces of Gansu and bordering Shaanxi, Li spent the majority of the first three decades of his work career. Li was elevated as Party chairman of the northwest Liaoning Province in 2015.
“As Party secretary of Liaoning, Li Xi was known for his tough stance against corruption and his enthusiastic support for Xi’s call for more strict enforcement of Party discipline,” Cheng Li, director of the John L. Thornton China Center at The Brookings Institution, told Reuters.
Li will succeed Zhao Leji as head of the anti-graft organisation following the end of the 20th Party Congress. Analysts contend that Li’s political rise is a reflection of Xi’s intention to step up his anti-corruption campaign over the following five years.
“I suppose [the anti-corruption work] after the 20th Party Congress would be fierce,” said Zheng Xuguang, a U.S.-based Chinese commentator and economist. “It could be a ferocious purge.”