As Chinese President Xi Jinping has risen to become the most powerful Chinese leader since Mao Zedong after securing an unprecedented third term in office, he is surrounded by a group of key figures who support his administration.
At the top of the hierarchy is the State Council, China’s “chief administrative authority,” led by a 10-member executive committee that oversees provincial administrations and 26 ministries.
While many of the top posts have traditionally been handed out to appease China’s various political factions, Xi, who was unanimously re-elected by China’s parliament on Friday, has sidelined rival groups such as the Youth League. affiliated with former President Hu Jintao, former Premier Li Keqiang and former Vice Premier Wang Yang.
In their place, Xi has added a group of loyalists announced in the course of the National People’s Congress, which concluded on Monday.
“More party control over the apparatus of government means Xi will be able to bring the state even more under his personal control and ensure maximum compliance with his ideology and policy objectives,” said Connor Swank, an analyst at the Center for Advanced China Research. Al Jazeera.
Carston Holz, an expert on China’s economics and a visiting professor at Princeton University, said the top appointees, despite their prominence, will ultimately have “little authority to make significant reforms without Xi Jinping’s endorsement.”
“Xi Jinping’s preferences are well known, from leading the economic development trajectory to securing the financial system under party control,” Holz told Al Jazeera.
Some of the top officials supporting Xi include:
Premier Li Qiang
Li, who replaces the former prime minister, is perhaps best known to outsiders for instituting Shanghai’s controversial “zero COVID” lockdowns between March and June last year as Communist Party secretary in the country’s largest metropolis. As of October, Li has been the second-highest member of the Communist Party’s Politburo Standing Committee, the seven-member committee made up of the party’s top leaders.
Li, 63, is a well-known Xi loyalist and has been a member of Xi’s patronage network since serving under Xi in the 2000s when he was Communist Party Secretary of Zhejiang Province. According to Adami Ni, editor of the China Neican website, Li’s power is seen to “come directly from Xi personally”.
“This makes the current situation special, if not unique. His distance from Xi is less than you would expect between a new prime minister and the party head,” Ni told Al Jazeera.
“The reason for the difference and distance has traditionally been that first and second party officials often came to their positions through a political compromise that takes into account the interests of different networks and groups in the party.”
Executive Vice Premier Ding Xuexiang
Ding, 60, is also the director of the General Office of the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party, a position he has held since 2017, working closely with Xi as his de facto chief of staff. In October, Ding also joined the elite Politburo Standing Committee, cementing a top position in China’s leadership for at least the next five years.
Ding began his political career in Shanghai, where he first met Xi, and is widely regarded as a close confidant of the Chinese leader. Unlike other top officials, Ding has never served as Communist Party secretary of any province or major city, a typical path to power in China’s highly structured leadership.
Deputy Prime Minister He Lifeng
He, 68, will take on the economics portfolio in place of outgoing Harvard-educated economist Liu He. A former head of the National Development and Reform Commission, he is seen as a longtime Xi loyalist, as well as a “highly capable technocrat,” according to the Brookings Institution, with a doctorate in economics.
He will work closely with Yi Gang, the governor of the People’s Bank of China, who has survived the latest upheaval despite approaching retirement age. The duo will face major challenges as China tries to get its economy back on track after the end of “zero COVID”, including a low birth rate, long-running real estate crisis and slowing growth, as evidenced by modest gross domestic product of Beijing. (GDP) target of 5 percent for 2023.
Vice Premier Zhang Guoqing
Zhang brings business experience as the former chairman of China North Industries Group Corporation (Norinco) military contractor and has served as party secretary of Liaoning Province, mayor of Tianjin and mayor of Chongqing. He also has a doctorate in economics and is considered another seasoned technocrat, according to analysts.
Foreign Minister and State Councilor Qin Gang
At 56, Qin is one of the younger members of the State Council. Qin was promoted to foreign minister in December, but held his first press conference only this month. After criticizing the United States for its “reckless” behavior towards China, the top diplomat is expected to continue the strident “wolf warrior” tone Beijing has adopted in foreign affairs in recent years. Qin is a career diplomat who has held a number of high-profile positions, including China’s ambassador to the US from 2021 to 2023.