Xi Jinping has returned to power for a third term as China’s president and leader of its Communist Party, in an unprecedented but widely expected development following the week-long party congress in Beijing.
The Chinese leader, who has ruled the country since 2012, will now be the party’s general secretary for another five-year term, having amended its constitution to remove a rule preventing the leader from serving for more than 10 years.
Sunday’s announcement confirms Mr Xi’s status as China’s most powerful leader since Mao Zedong.
The Communist Party congress, which sets out the agenda for the country for the next five years, came to a close on Saturday with confirmation that several key members of the all-important Politburo standing committee would not be staying on.
And on Sunday, Mr Xi revealed the new line-up of the standing committee in front of reporters at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing.
Russian president Vladimir Putin and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un were first in line to congratulate their Chinese ally on the start of another five years in power. Mr Putin said he looked forward to further developing a “comprehensive partnership” between Moscow and Beijing.
“The results of the Party Congress fully confirm your high political authority, as well as the unity of the party you lead,” Mr Putin told his Chinese counterpart, according to the Kremlin’s website.
The North Korean leader also welcomed the continuation of Mr Xi’s presidency, and sent “warmest congratulations” to his east Asian ally. “Please accept my warmest congratulations to you upon the glad news that ... you were elected again as the general secretary of the Party Central Committee,” Mr Kim’s message read, according to state news agency KCNA.
He added: “I, together with you, will shape more beautiful future of the DPRK-China relations meeting the demand of the times [sic].”
The new seven-member standing committee, Mr Xi’s inner circle of power, is dominated by his close allies after premier Li Keqiang, the No 2 leader and an advocate of market-style reform and private enterprise, was dropped from the leadership on Saturday.
Mr Xi announced that Li Qiang, a former Shanghai party secretary who is no relation to Li Keqiang, was now the No 2 member, and that Zhao Leji, a member of the previous committee, had been promoted to No 3.
Mr Li was due to step down as premier by March next year, at the end of his second five-year term, but he would have been eligible under China’s age restrictions to serve another five years on the standing committee.
The 67-year-old premier was appointed in 2013 and has a background as a liberal economist. He was close to China’s previous president Hu Jintao, but is not viewed as having particularly friendly or long-standing relations with Mr Xi.
Another video showed the 79-year-old Mr Hu being unexpectedly led out of the closing ceremony by party aides, with the former president visibly reluctant to leave. He was seen sharing words with both Mr Xi and Mr Li on his way out.
Later, state news agency Xinhua claimed that the veteran Chinese leader had not been feeling well.
The grand political event was dominated by the leadership changes, but had also been expected to include the announcement of initiatives to reverse the slump of the Covid-hit economy as well as alterations to China’s harsh “zero-Covid” strategy, which has had an adverse impact on businesses and locked down whole cities.
However, no such changes or policies were announced for watching business leaders, investors or Chinese citizens at large.
Political commentators are calling the new standing committee line-up “Maximum Xi”, saying appointments to key roles have prioritised loyalty to the Chinese leader over aptitude for the position.
“The party congress has reaffirmed Xi’s decisive role in ruling the Communist Party, marking a continued shift away from collective leadership of party elites toward a personalised dictatorship,” said Chris Miller, a professor at Tufts University in Massachusetts.
He added that the landmark twice-a-decade event “appears to have confirmed the downgrading of economic growth as a key party goal, relative to other agenda items such as zero-Covid and the party’s political and ideological control”.
Other members of the new Politburo include anti-corruption chief Mr Zhao, who has served as a key enforcer in Mr Xi’s efforts to tighten his control over party members. An active political player, the 65-year-old is described by analysts as part of the Chinese leader’s “Shaanxi gang” of figures who have a family connection to the western province of Shaanxi.
Unconfirmed reports say their fathers were friends.
Political theorist Wang Huning also keeps a seat in the seven-member panel, and has moved up from the fifth spot to fourth. He is regarded as one of Mr Xi’s most important advisers and has also advised previous leaders on matters of party ideology, though he has no experience himself as a regional governor, party leader or cabinet minister.
Cai Qi, a party leader from Beijing, is among the newcomers on the standing committee, and comes with both administrative and political experience.
Mr Cai spearheaded the hosting and organising of the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics, ensuring that the international sporting event was held according to schedule.
Other players in Mr Xi’s core team include long-time confidante Ding Xuexiang, who holds one of the most important bureaucratic positions in the party. He is also known to exercise sweeping and stringent control over information and access to officials.
And another newcomer, Li Xi, who has served as the head of industrial powerhouse Guangdong, has been elevated to the standing committee as an official recognition of his success in promoting integration between Guangdong, with its technological centre of Shenzhen, and international finance hub Hong Kong.
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