5 new faces in China's 7-member top leadership, no potential Xi successor in line-up

The Communist Party of China's new Politburo Standing Committee, (from left) Han Zheng, Wang Huning, Li Zhanshu, Chinese President Xi Jinping, Premier Li Keqiang, Wang Yang and Zhao Leji meet the press at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing. PHOTO: AFP

BEIJING - China on Wednesday (Oct 25) unveiled a seven-member top leadership team that has five newcomers, but the line-up does not include any potential successor to President Xi Jinping, raising the possibility that he will remain in power beyond 2022.

The Politburo Standing Committee (PSC) consists of Mr Xi, Premier Li Keqiang and newcomers Li Zhanshu, Wang Yang, Wang Huning, Zhao Leji and Han Zheng.

All are in their 60s and for the first time, no member was born before the 1949 Communist revolution.

The line-up appears to be a compromise to include a broad range of voices from party elites. Mr Li Zhanshu and Mr Zhao have close ties to Mr Xi ,while Mr Wang Yang and Mr Han are non-allies. Mr Wang Huning is considered a more neutral member.

The new team does not include any potential successor to Mr Xi. Guangdong party chief Hu Chunhua, the widely tipped successor, and the president's protege, Chongqing party chief Chen Min'er, are both not in the PSC.

This breaks an unwritten norm of naming successors-in-waiting in the PSC line-up. Analysts have said this indicates that Mr Xi intends to go for a third term in office in 2022, another break with tradition.

Mr Xi was re-elected as General Secretary of the Communist Party of China (CPC) and Chairman of the Central Military Commission (CMC) which oversees the People's Liberation Army, at the first plenum of the new Central Committee on Wednesday.

"I was re-elected general secretary of the CPC Central Committee. I see this as not just approval of my work, but also encouragement that will spur me on," Mr Xi said in a speech at the Great Hall of the People.

"We will work diligently to meet our duty, fulfill our ambition and be worthy of the people's trust."

Mr Xi pledged greater reform and opening up as the new leadership team leads China in the next five years.

"We will review our experience and build on the good momentum to continue modernising China's system and capacity for governance, and make determined efforts to comprehensively deepen reform and open China wider to the world," he said.

Mr Xi also vowed to make the "great rejuvenation" of the Chinese nation a reality.

"2019 marks the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China. Strive for sustained and healthy economic growth that will benefit China and people around the world, develop new blueprints for China's future," he said.

"These efforts will contribute to a more prosperous and strong People's Republic of China."

Among the new PSC members, Mr Wang Huning is confirmed to be the top-ranked secretary of the Chinese Communist Party Secretariat, and Mr Zhao is the new secretary of the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection (CCDI).

Mr Zhao is China's new anti-corruption czar, taking over from Mr Wang Qishan who retired from the PSC.

Mr Li Zhanshu, the third-ranked PSC member, will most likely become the head of the parliament.

Mr Wang Yang is expected to become chairman of the top political advisory body, the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference.

Mr Han will become the executive vice-premier.

The Chinese president also packed the bigger 25-member Politburo with his allies and former colleagues. There are at least 15 people, or more than half of the Politburo, who can be considered loyal to Mr Xi.

The leadership of the powerful Central Military Commission was also unveiled on Wednesday.

Besides Mr Xi who was elected to a second term as chairman, the current second vice-chairman Xu Qiliang was promoted to first chairman, replacing Fan Changlong who retired.

General Zhang Youxia was named the new second vice-chairman of CMC. He is a former director of the commission's equipment development department and a trusted ally of Mr Xi.

The unveiling of the top leadership comes a day after Mr Xi's political thoughts were written into the Constitution of the Chinese Communist Party, sealing his status ahead of his two immediate predecessors and Deng Xiaoping, and just behind Mao Zedong.

His "Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era" was added to the preamble that describes the party's guiding ideology including Marxism-Leninism, Mao Zedong Thought, Deng Xiaoping Theory, Three Represents and the Scientific Outlook on Development.

This formulation carries his name unlike those of his two immediate predecessors - Mr Jiang Zemin, whose contribution is the Three Represents, and Mr Hu Jintao, whose guiding principle is the Scientific Outlook on Development.

This places Mr Xi ahead of his predecessors and Deng, and just behind Mao. In the CCP lexicon, Thought is ahead of Theory in importance.

However, it fell short of what some analysts believe Mr Xi would have liked it to be - Xi Jinping Thought. This will place him alongside Mao.

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