Tonthree times For the past decade, Mr. Xi has presided over the same ceremony at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing. A file of six behind him waved to the seated reporters through golden doors into a cavernous room. In a choreographed move, he stopped in the middle of the podium and had three of his colleagues take positions on either side of him—equid-distance, also of wood, their arms kept motionless except for clapping. The latest unveiling of the country’s most powerful man on 23 October was no exception. But it’s striking.
It was no surprise that Xi Jinping once again took center stage on a red-carpeted stage. Since 2018, it has been apparent (though never officially confirmed) that he will return for a five-year term in 2022 as general secretary of the Communist Party and commander-in-chief of the armed forces, although those positions are only for two terms. What was most eye-opening was how many of the people he joined for this latest photoshoot were clearly his own — their ties to Xi Jinping stretching back long before he became party boss a decade ago ( see picture). There has been at least a pretense of balance in the past, with members of the group — formally known as the Politburo Standing Committee — representing a diverse network of individuals. no longer.
Signs abounded in the previous week that Mr. Xi’s already enormous power was about to come into play. On Oct. 16, he presided over the opening of the party’s 20th congress, a five-year event attended by some 2,300 delegates (scrutinized for their allegiance to Mr. Xi). The resolution adopted by the conference was mixed with flattery for him and praise for “ambivalent”. The term was coined last year to refer to the establishment of Xi Jinping as the “core” of the party and his ideas as part of the party’s guiding ideology. They carried out a complete reshuffle of the party’s 376 Central Committee members. Several leaders who came to power before Mr. Xi left, including some who have not yet reached the normal retirement age.
An unusual scene in the hall also attracted the attention of many onlookers. On October 22, the closing day of the conference, the 79-year-old predecessor Hu Jintao, who sat next to Xi Jinping, left accompanied by two officials. He appeared reluctant to leave, fueling speculation that he had been deliberately humiliated: Some of those fired from the Central Committee were linked to Mr. Hu. Xinhua, the state news agency, said on Twitter that Mr Hu was taken out because he was “not feeling well”. This may be closer to the goal. His behavior appeared to be consistent with a sudden onset of insanity. The deadpan stare of the person sitting next to him may have read to some as a political snub, but may have reflected embarrassment or a reluctance to cause confusion. No one tried to remove Mr. Hu from the official NPC accounts. But whatever the reason, Hu’s ouster would signal to audiences that he is an exhausted political force and would appear to symbolize that relations between the previous leader and Mr. Xi’s team have been drained.
The Standing Committee had several such clues in the past.Before the recent reshuffle, its second-highest member was Li Keqiang, a protégé of Hu Jintao phd in economics. He has been prime minister for the past ten years. As required by China’s constitution, he will step down at next year’s annual session of the National People’s Congress, China’s legislature, which is likely to be held in March. Mr Li had been widely considered a likely candidate for the top job, but after the 17th party congress in 2007, it became clear that Xi was the frontrunner to lead China. In his current post, Li Keqiang has found himself sidelined, while Xi has taken over duties previously held by the prime minister, including overseeing economic policy. By convention, Li Keqiang, 67, is just young enough to remain on the Standing Committee or hold other leadership positions. But he is not a new member of the Central Committee. That means he is likely to resign from public office.
The next prime minister seems likely to be someone who will walk directly behind Mr. Xi: Li Qiang. Young Mr. Li (63 years old this year) is different. He has no relationship with past leaders, only Xi Jinping. In the 2000s, when Xi Jinping was party secretary in the coastal province of Zhejiang, Li Qiang was his chief of staff.
His promotion has drawn attention at home and abroad. Since 2017, Mr. Li has served as Party Secretary of Shanghai, China’s commercial hub. Some residents have accused him of chaotic and harsh management of the mayor’s months-long lockdown earlier this year aimed at containing the covid-19 outbreak. There was speculation that this would hurt his career. No one expected that not only was he promoted, but he was also promoted to the position of prime minister. This position is usually reserved for someone who has served as deputy prime minister. Li Qiang has never held a central government position.
The other three newcomers to the Standing Committee are also apparently Xi Jinping’s favorite students. One of them is Cai Qi, the party chief of Beijing, who held key posts in Zhejiang under Mr. Xi and previously held key posts in Mr. Xi’s Fujian province. Like Li Qiang, Mr Cai has a controversial record in the city he manages. He is remembered for a campaign in late 2017 to demolish crumbling homes used by migrant workers. Thousands were evicted without notice. Officials describe them as “low-end” personnel that Beijing does not need.
The last two behind Xi Jinping are Ding Xuexiang and Li Xi. Mr Ding has long been close to Mr Xi – serving as his chief of staff during his brief tenure as Shanghai party chief in 2007 and a similar role in Beijing since 2013. He is expected to be named the most senior of the four deputy prime ministers next year, despite never having held a job involving economic management at the national or provincial level. Li Xi is the party secretary of Guangdong province, which borders Hong Kong. In the 1980s, he worked as a personal assistant to a favorite student of Xi Zhongxun, Xi Zhongxun, Xi Jinping’s late father and one of the founders of communist China. The Brookings Institution, a Washington think tank, said Li Keqiang and Xi Jinping, Jr. “have been friends ever since”.
In addition to Xi Jinping, there are two other members of the new Standing Committee who are also left behind. They are Wang Huning, his chief ideologue (author of Xi doctrines such as “China Dream”, most likely these two institutions), and Zhao Leji, who until this Congress was the main enforcer of his party discipline. This role has now been passed on to Li Xi. Mr Zhao is expected to become chairman of the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress next year. Neither Mr Wang nor Mr Zhao had any ties to Xi earlier in their careers. (Mr. Wang also helped shape the ideology of Mr. Xi’s predecessor.) But they are all loyal supporters of Mr. Xi.
In the run-up to the convention, few observers expected the committee to be packed with so many of Mr. Xi’s minions (no women were ever on it; for the first time in 20 years, no women were rank-and-file members of the Politburo, either). Many had thought Hu Chunhua, a 59-year-old protégé of Hu Jintao, might take office as prime minister-designate (he is now vice-premier). But he failed even to keep his seat in the Politburo. Another Hu Jintao protégé, Wang Yang, 67, who was widely expected to retain his seat on the Standing Committee, has now lost all his party positions. His remaining title as head of the legislature’s advisory body is likely to be taken over by ideologue Wang Huning next year.
learning to sell
It’s no surprise, then, that analysts were quick to see the political machinations behind Hu Jintao’s disgraceful withdrawal from the NPC, despite the medical explanation.Hu’s protégés are often called Group brand, or “tuanpai” because early in their careers they held important positions in the Communist Youth League, which Mr. Hu once led. They are considered relatively pro-market. Mr Xi is far from it. Foreign investors were spooked by his new lineup. In Hong Kong and overseas markets, they scrambled to sell Chinese stocks and currencies.
There is little sign that the presence of Hu Jintao’s men in the Politburo or its standing committee limits Xi’s power. After replacing them, it is far from clear that Xi plans to steer China in any new direction. Congress has shown little sign of any imminent policy changes (which have long been grim for pro-market types). “This idea of factional rivalry is grossly overblown,” said Joseph Torigian of the American University in Washington. Even Li Keqiang, the outgoing prime minister, “is already a respondent,” he said. Li Qiang, Li Qiang’s likely successor, has been criticized by some citizens for his handling of the coronavirus pandemic, but he “has a pretty good reputation in the business world”, Mr Torigian said.
Since the inauguration of the new Standing Committee, everything has been as usual. State media has been touting Mr. Xi — the “leader of the people,” as he is now often described. His continued “steering” is “the blessing of the party, the country, the army, and the people.” People’s Daily. But the stakes have grown, and behind closed doors, it is even less likely that Xi will hear views other than his own. This is undoubtedly something that worries the world. ■
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