China names Xi Jinping loyalists for core leadership group

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

Noel Celis | AFP | Getty Images

BEIJING — Chinese President Xi Jinping broke precedent on Sunday, paving the way for a third term as president and the likely appointment of a premier with no previous experience as vice premier.

Li Qiang, the party secretary in Shanghai, came second to Xi at a press conference on Sunday. Li is a known Xi loyalist and oversaw strict Covid controls in Shanghai earlier this year.

State positions such as president and premier will not be confirmed until the next annual meeting of the Chinese government, which is usually held in March.

Acting Premier Li Keqiang came second to Xi at a similar meeting with the media after the 19th National Party Congress ended in 2017.

Since Li Keqiang, all but the first of China’s modern premiers were previously vice premiers. However, Li Qiang has not previously held a vice-premier role, according to a biography in state media.

In addition to Xi and Li Qiang, five others were appointed to the new standing committee of the Politburo, the central power circle of the ruling Communist Party of China: Zhao Leji, who heads 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.

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

Noel Celis | AFP | Getty Images

In remarks on Sunday, Xi emphasized leading the party on a “new journey to transform China into a modern socialist country,” according to an official translation.

He said that China cannot develop in isolation from the world, but that the world also needs China. Xi claimed that China will open its door “wider and wider” and that the country will “deepen overall reform and opening up and pursue high-quality development.”

Four of the previous seven members of the Politburo standing committee did not make it to the list of new central committee members announced on Saturday. The only three that remained were Xi, Wang Huning and Zhao Leji.

That central committee determines the core leadership – the Politburo and its standing committee.

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

Xi holds three key positions: General Secretary of the Chinese Communist Party, Chairman of the Central Military Commission, and President of China. Xi has set the stage for an unprecedented third five-year term as president with constitutional changes in 2018.

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

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

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

He from the NDRC was also appointed to the new Politburo.

Bruce Pang, chief economist and head of research for Greater China at JLL, said some of the central committee appointments have experience in finance and local government, indicating that “the reform will not lead to dramatic changes in China’s macro policies. “

“We expect that the political focus will not be on launching new stimulus, but on implementing existing policies and letting them take effect,” Pang said. “So supporting domestic demand to support jobs remains critical.”

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 security and quality

Xi’s opening speech at the party’s 20th National Congress affirmed China’s greater focus on national security and “high-quality” growth. In fact, this shift from high-speed growth in recent decades means China is facing “a new situation for attracting foreign investment,” said an official from the economic planner.

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While Xi’s report to congress “conveys a strong message of policy continuity,” it signals that there are competing goals and that some types of economic growth are preferred over others, Gabriel Wildau, managing director at consultancy Teneo, said in -a note.

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

Xi also stressed the need for unity within the Chinese Communist Party 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 succession

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, an associate professor of political science at the University of Michigan, wrote in the Journal of Democracy in July.

The threat to power by the Chinese Communist Party, she said, “will be succession battles resulting from Xi’s personalist leadership.”

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