Xi Jinping officially reached a third term as head of the Chinese Communist Party and unveiled a new leadership team full of loyalists a day after he orchestrated the removal of former rival Li Keqiang from the top of the party and further tightened his grip on power. reinforced.
In what is normally the culmination of party congresses, held every five years to appoint party leaders, Xi walked a red carpet on Sunday, followed by the officials who will serve on his seven-member Politburo Standing Committee. Four of the officials are new appointees.
“I have been re-elected as secretary general,” Xi said in a speech on Sunday. “We will work diligently to carry out our duties to prove that we are worthy of the great confidence of the party and our people.”
But this year’s leadership unveiling was overshadowed by the closing session of the party’s 20th Congress on Saturday, escorting Xi’s predecessor from the leadership platform. State media did not immediately report the incident and censorship blocked social media accounts circulating or commenting on video clips.
China’s official Xinhua news agency later said on Twitter that Hu Jintao, 79, “urged to attend the closing session despite taking the time to recover lately”.
“When he was not feeling well during the session, his employees accompanied him to a room next to the meeting location for his health to rest,” it added. “Now he’s much better.”
Xi exclaimed the strength of China’s economy, saying the “strong fundamentals will not change”. Xi’s controversial zero-covid policy has dramatically slowed economic growth and made traveling in and out of China extremely difficult, with no significant easing in sight.
Two members of the Politburo Standing Committee, Prime Minister Li Keqiang and Wang Yang, were not reappointed, although they were young enough to serve another five-year term. Li, a protégé of Hu who has been largely sidelined by Xi over the past decade, was originally a contender to succeed Hu as party leader and president in 2012.
Eswar Prasad, a China expert at Cornell University, said the appointments represented “a decent display of power from Xi.”
Prasad added: “I see some dark days ahead as Xi now turns to uniting the country behind his brawny foreign policy vision.”
In addition to Xi, anti-corruption Tsar Zhao Leji and ideological guru Wang Huning will remain on the Politburo’s Standing Committee, but will be given new portfolios.
The four new committee members are all Xi allies and include, in order of ranking: Shanghai party leader Li Qiang, Beijing party leader Cai Qi, Ding Xuexiang and Li Xi, the party’s top official in southern Guangdong province. The ranking suggests that Li Qiang will succeed Li Keqiang as prime minister, although the government positions will not be confirmed until the Chinese parliament convenes its annual session in March.
“It represents a massive consolidation of Xi’s power that is unprecedented since the Mao era,” said Neil Thomas, senior China analyst at the consultancy Eurasia Group.
Li Qiang, the party’s top official in Shanghai, presided over the worst Covid-19 outbreak in mainland China in March. His government responded by enforcing a severe lockdown that crushed economic activity in one of the country’s most prosperous regions.
Li’s ascension “shows everyone that loyalty rather than popularity is key,” said Yang Zhang, a professor at American University in Washington. “The disaster of the Shanghai lockdown has not stopped Li’s elevation precisely because he followed Xi’s orders despite all the criticism.”
Xi also replaced more than half of the 24-member politburo. Many of the new appointees worked for Xi when he was a provincial party official halfway through his career. No women were appointed to the politburo, breaking a long convention of appointing a single female cadres to the group.
Foreign Minister Wang Yi was also promoted to the politburo, putting him in line to replace Yang Jiechi as the party’s top diplomat.
Additional reporting by Xinning Liu and Nian Liu in Beijing, Edward White in Seoul and Eleanor Olcott in Hong Kong