China's Xi Jinping stacks 25-member Politburo with loyalists

Chinese President Xi Jinping waving to party members after unveiling the members of the new Politburo Standing Committee on Oct 25, 2017. PHOTO: AFP

BEIJING - Chinese President Xi Jinping has emerged the biggest winner with the latest personnel changes at China's top decision-making bodies, the Politburo and Politburo Standing Committee (PSC).

The members of the Politburo are picked from the Chinese Communist Party's Central Committee. which was selected on Tuesday (Oct 24) by the 2,300 party delegates to the 19th Party Congress. The average age of the new Politburo, one rank below the apex PSC, is 62.48 compared with 61.16 five years ago.

A study of new line-up of the Politburo unveiled on Wednesday (Oct 25) shows that more than half of its members are either Mr Xi's allies, or people who have worked closely with him during his leadership stints in the provinces of Zhejiang, Fujian and the financial capital of Shanghai. A few of them are from Mr Xi's home province of Shaanxi.

Their inclusion in the Politburo puts them in good position for promotion to the PSC, China's pinnacle of power, at the next party congress to be held in 2022.

Here is a look at Mr Xi's loyalists in the Politburo and its Standing Committee.

Politburo Standing Committee:

1. Li Zhanshu, 67

Mr Li is promoted to the PSC on Wednesday. He is ranked No. 3 in the Chinese leadership hierarchy, after President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang. As director of the Central Committee's General Office, he is Mr Xi's chief of staff. The General Office is a powerful agency that oversees the itineraries of all top leaders.

A Xi loyalist with no strong ties to the President's predecessors, he is often seen at the side of Mr Xi on domestic and foreign trips. He has also become the leader's personal liaison to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

He is set to be Mr Xi's strongest ally now that anti-graft czar Wang Qishan has stepped down. His friendship with Mr Xi goes back to the 1980s when both men headed neighbouring counties in Hebei province.

Li is tipped to become head of parliament having been appointed the third ranked member of the PSC. He will ensure strong support for Mr Xi in the legislature.

2. Zhao Leji, 60

Mr Zhao was appointed to the PSC on Wednesday and head of the 133-member Central Commission for Discipline Inspection, the party's top anti-corruption watchdog.

After a stint running nearby Shaanxi province, both his and Mr Xi's home province, Mr Zhao was catapulted to the party's Organisation Department which holds sway over appointments to senior patronage jobs across the country, from provinces to central party agencies. That made him instrumental in President Xi's efforts to position allies ahead of the current reshuffle.

Prior to his stint in Shaanxi province, Mr Zhao spent almost three decades climbing the ranks in Qinghai, one of the poorest regions in China.

In 2000, he became Qinghai governor at the age of 42, making him the youngest governor in the country at the time. His promotion to Qinghai party boss three years later made him the country's youngest provincial party secretary, at age 45. Qinghai's economic figures doubled under his watch.

Other Politburo allies of Xi (in alphabetic order of their names):

3. Cai Qi, 61

The Fujian native has worked with Mr Xi in the coastal provinces of Zhejiang and Fujian.

He has enjoyed a meteoric rise under Mr Xi and is considered a shoo-in for the Politburo after he was named party boss of Beijing in May, despite not being a full or alternate member of the wider Central Committee.

Since 1987, whoever holds the office of Beijing party chief has also been a Politburo member.

4. Chen Min'er, 56

Chen is widely seen as Xi's protege and was among the frontrunners to enter the PSC. He did not enter the PSC but was promoted to the Politburo this time.

He is seen to have performed strongly as the leader of Guizhou province before being named party boss of the southwestern metropolis of Chongqing on July 15, replacing disgraced Sun Zhengcai.

5. Chen Xi, 64

Mr Chen shared a dormitory with Xi when the two attended China's prestigious Tsinghua University in the late 1970s.

The native of Fujian is tipped to be promoted to fill the shoes of Mr Zhao Leji as head of the party's Organisation Department. The department oversees the promotion and deployment of party officials.

He is currently a deputy at the department.

6. Ding Xuexiang, 55

A low-profile politician, Ding served as a secretary to Mr Xi when the latter was party boss in Shanghai for seven months in 2007 after the downfall of Chen Liangyu.

Mr Ding moved to Beijing in 2013 after being appointed deputy director of the General Office of the party's Central Committee.

The General Office oversees day-to-day operations of the Politburo and the itineraries of all top leaders.

His boss Li Zhanshu, director of the General Office, was promoted to the PSC on Wednesday.

Ding graduated from Northeast Heavy Machinery Institute and worked at the Shanghai Research Institute of Materials from 1982 to 1999, before rising rapidly through the party ranks.

7. Huang Kunming, 60

A native of Fujian, Huang followed Xi when the future Chinese leader was moved from Fujian to Zhejiang province in 2002.

He was appointed provincial propaganda chief in 2007, the final year Xi was in charge of the Zhejiang.

Before moving to Beijing, Huang was party chief of Zhejiang's capital Hangzhou for three years.

Huang is now the front-runner to become chief of the party's propaganda department after being made its deputy director in late 2013.

In an article published in People's Daily in 2015, Huang said. the "international environment is getting more complicated, as hostile Western forces intensify (efforts) to divide and Westernise us". Cadres must be "armed with the spirit expressed in Xi's speeches".

8.Li Hongzhong, 61

The party secretary of the port city of Tianjin have not worked under Xi previously, but he is known to be an ardent supporter of Xi. He moved to Tianjin last year after the former acting party boss Huang Xingguo was removed for corruption probes.

9. Li Qiang, 58

A native of Zhejiang, Li is the party boss of the eastern coastal province of Jiangsu. Li was Xi's right-hand man when Mr Xi was party boss of Zhejiang province.

10. Li Xi, 60

Li is part of what some China watchers call Mr Xi's Shaanxi Gang. He is currently the party chief of the northeastern province of Liaoning, and is seen as in line for promotion to head a bigger province.

He once worked in Xi's home province, Shaanxi, in China's northwest.

11.Liu He, 65

When former US National Security Adviser Tom Donilon visited Beijing in 2013, Xi introduced Liu as "very important to me", according to the Wall Street Journal.

Liu holds a master's degree in public administration from Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government.

In an article published in 2008, Liu wrote that Mr Lee Kuan Yew, the founding prime minister of Singapore, told him China had to pay attention to urbanisation.

"China's biggest challenge is urbanisation ... it is a process that will change the world," Liu quoted Lee as telling him. "Lee Kuan Yew is right."

Born in Beijing in 1952, Liu is one year older than Xi and they grew up in the same neighbourhood in the capital.

12. Wang Chen, 66

Mr Wang is one of the friends Mr Xi made during the seven years (1969 to 1976) he spent as "sent-down youth" in Yan'an, Shaanxi province.

Mr Xi has acknowledged on numerous occasions that those seven years working in the countryside were the "defining experience" of his life and career.

The Chinese leader made many friends among villagers and grassroots officials, but his most important friends were his fellow sent-down youths. Among them is Wang, who in 2013 became the Secretary-General and Vice-Chairman of the Standing Committee of the 12th National People's Congress.

He was formerly the editor-in-chief of People's Daily.

13. Yang Jiechi, 67

China's top diplomat, Yang is believed to be close to former president Jiang Zemin and Mr Xi.

Mr Yang on Wednesday surprisingly made it to the Politburo and could become one of four vice premiers, the first diplomat to hold that post since Qian Qichen, who was vice premier from 1993 to 2003.

Qian was instrumental in breaking China out of diplomatic isolation after the military crackdown on the 1989 Tiananmen pro-democracy protests.

Mr Hua Liming, former ambassador to Iran, the United Arab Emirates and the Netherlands, told South China Morning Post a promotion to the PSC for Mr Yang would increase the top diplomat's influence and, more importantly, allow them to get closer to the inner circle of the leadership.

A Politburo seat would "almost certainly mean they will have a better chance to fully understand what top leaders think on major policy issues and that alone will be quite helpful," Mr Hua said.

14. Yang Xiaodu, 64

A Shanghai native, Yang's path is likely to have crossed that of Mr Xi when the latter was party secretary of Shanghai for seven months in 2007.

Yang Xiaodu was named head of the National Bureau of Corruption Prevention earlier this year. He was appointed as one of the deputy heads of the powerful Central Commission for Discipline Inspection in 2014 after Xi became party boss.

15. Zhang Youxia, 67

Xi's longtime friend, General Zhang is one of a few senior military officers with combat experience. He was named on Wednesday (Oct 25) the second vice-chairman of the Central Military Commission, one of Mr Xi's two deputies at the powerful body which oversees the People's Liberation Army.

According to China watcher Li Cheng, Mr Xi and Gen Zhang have strong family ties: Their fathers, Xu Zhongxun and Zhang Zongxun, were both natives of Shaanxi and were "bloody fighting comrades" during the Communist Revolution.

"Xi Jinping and Zhang Youxia inherited their fathers' friendship. They both were born in Beijing and grew up around the officers' 'big yards', he wrote on the website of Brookings Institution.

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