China appoints Xi Jinping supporters to core leadership

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Chinese President Xi Jinping (L) walks with members of the new Politburo Standing Committee of the Communist Party of China, the country’s top decision-making body, as they meet the media at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on October 23, 2022 .

Christmas Celis | AFP | Getty Images

BEIJING — Chinese President Xi Jinping broke the precedent on Sunday by paving the way for his third term as president and the likely appointment of a prime minister with no previous experience as deputy prime minister.

Li Qiang, Shanghai party secretary, came out second to Xi in a meeting with the press on Sunday. Li is a known Xi loyalist and oversaw strict Covid checks in Shanghai earlier this year.

State posts such as president and prime minister will not be confirmed until the next annual meeting of the Chinese government, usually held in March.

Incumbent Premier Li Keqiang came second to Xi in a similar meeting with the press after the conclusion of the party’s 19th National Congress in 2017.

Since Li Keqiang, all of modern China’s prime ministers except the first had previously served as deputy prime ministers. However, Li Qiang has never served as vice premier, according to a state media biography.

In addition to Xi and Li Qiang, five other people have been named to the new Standing Committee of the Politburo, the central circle of power within the ruling Chinese Communist Party: Zhao Leji, who leads party discipline; Wang Huning, known for his work on ideology; Beijing Party Secretary Cai Qi; Ding Xuexiang, known as Xi’s chief of staff, and Li Xi, party secretary of Guangdong.

Chinese President Xi Jinping (C) and other members of the Politburo Standing Committee of the Communist Party of China meet the media at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on October 23, 2022.

Christmas Celis | AFP | Getty Images

In remarks on Sunday, Xi highlighted the Party’s leadership in “a new journey to transform China into a modern socialist country,” according to an official translation.

He said China cannot develop in isolation from the world, but the world also needs China. Xi said China will open its doors “ever wider” and the country will “deepen reform and opening-up at all levels and pursue high-quality development.”

Four of the seven previous members of the Politburo Standing Committee were not on the list of new central committee members announced on Saturday. The only three who remained were Xi, Wang Huning, and Zhao Leji.

This central committee determines the ruling core – the Politburo and its standing committee.

High-level economic policy in China is largely set by members of the Politburo. However, Li Keqiang has been an official face and implementation leader in his role as prime minister and head of the State Council, China’s top executive body.

Xi holds three key positions: general secretary of the Communist Party of China, chairman of the Central Military Commission and president of China. Xi had set the stage for an unprecedented third five-year term as president with constitutional changes in 2018.

In addition to purging allegedly corrupt officials, Xi consolidated his power over the past decade with groups that have sidestepped the prime minister’s typical economic policy responsibilities, Reuters pointed out.

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Notable ministry heads who remained on the new party central committee list included:

  • He Lifeng, head of the National Development and Reform Commission
  • Yi Huiman, head of China Securities Regulatory Commission
  • Zhuang Rongwen, head of the Cyberspace Administration of China

He was also appointed to the new NDRC Politburo.

Bruce Pang, chief economist and head of research for Greater China at JLL, said some of the central committee members had experience in finance and local government, telling him that “the upheaval will not lead to dramatic changes in China’s macroeconomic policies.”

“We expect the policy to focus not on initiating new stimulus measures, but on implementing existing policies and implementing them,” Pang said. “Supporting domestic demand to support employment therefore remains essential.”

Pang also noted that Li Qiang previously led three provincial-level areas, including Shanghai, which are known for their contributions to China’s “opening up” and economic growth.

Focus on safety and quality

Xi’s opening speech at the 20th National Party Congress said China is putting more emphasis on national security and “high-quality” growth. In fact, this departure from the high-speed growth of the past decades means China faces ‘new situation to attract foreign investment’ an economic planner official said.

While Xi’s report to congress “delivers a strong message of political continuity,” it signals that there are competing goals and that certain types of economic growth are preferred over others, said Gabriel Wildau, chief executive of consulting firm Teneo, in a note.

“Party leaders want manufacturing and advanced technology to be the main drivers of growth,” Wildau said.

Xi also stressed the need for unity within the Chinese Communist Party in order to achieve “national rejuvenation”. The 20th National Congress, which ended on Saturday, agreed to amend the national constitution to incorporate more “Xi Thought”, according to state media.

A matter of inheritance

For many China watchers, the question is not how Xi consolidates power, but who his successor might be.

Under Xi, China’s bureaucracy has become less autonomous and more tied to him personally – especially since there are few checks on power, Yuen Yuen Ang, associate professor of political science at the University of Michigan , written in the Journal of Democracy in July.

The threat to the Chinese Communist Party’s grip on power, she said, “will be succession battles resulting from Xi’s personalistic regime.”

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