New leadership shows Xi's pre-eminent position

Members of the Chinese Communist Party's new seven-member Politburo Standing Committee - (from left) Mr Han Zheng, Mr Wang Huning, Mr Li Zhanshu, President Xi Jinping, Premier Li Keqiang, Mr Wang Yang and Mr Zhao Leji - were unveiled yesterday at a p
Members of the Chinese Communist Party's new seven-member Politburo Standing Committee - (from left) Mr Han Zheng, Mr Wang Huning, Mr Li Zhanshu, President Xi Jinping, Premier Li Keqiang, Mr Wang Yang and Mr Zhao Leji - were unveiled yesterday at a press conference held at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

Chinese President places loyalists in key roles, has not named potential successors

President Xi Jinping has unveiled a new slate of top leaders that shows he reigns supreme in the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).

He not only placed people loyal to him in key positions, but also defied convention in not naming potential successors to the party's top decision-making body, the seven-member Politburo Standing Committee (PSC).

There had been intense speculation in the run-up to the CCP's five-yearly national congress, which ended on Tuesday, that Mr Xi could signal his intention to remain in power beyond 2022, when his second term of office ends.

That Mr Xi did not put any potential heirs in the PSC is also indicative of his greater clout in deciding who he wants, said Professor Yang Dali of Chicago University.

In the past, retiring leaders got to pick the incoming leaders' successors. The duo that Mr Xi's immediate predecessors had supposedly chosen to succeed him and Premier Li Keqiang were Chongqing party boss Sun Zhengcai and Guangdong party chief Hu Chunhua.

However, Mr Sun was expelled from the party last month for alleged corruption, while Mr Hu did not make it into the PSC yesterday.

Mr Xi also showed confidence in his position by naming two non-allies from rival, albeit weakened, factions to the PSC: Vice-Premier Wang Yang, who belongs to the Communist Youth League faction; and Mr Han Zheng, the incumbent Shanghai party chief who is linked to the Shanghai faction of former president Jiang Zemin.

The two men would likely be given less important posts, going by their order of appearance yesterday. Mr Wang's fourth position is usually associated with the head of the top political advisory body, the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference.

Mr Han, seventh and last in the pecking order, will probably be first vice-premier, at a time when the State Council, or Cabinet, has been reduced in power, noted Hong Kong-based analyst Willy Lam.

Their inclusion in the PSC was meant to show unity and that Mr Xi is leader of the whole party, said Professor Steve Tsang of the School of Oriental and African Studies.

The key posts went to Xi loyalists such as Mr Zhao Leji, ranked sixth, who was made head of the party's anti-graft body, and Mr Li Zhanshu, ranked third, who is likely to become the head of Parliament.

Yesterday began with Mr Xi's re-election as CCP general secretary at the first plenary meeting of the new Central Committee, which also elected a new Politburo and the PSC.

At his meeting with the media, Mr Xi said his new team must deliver the first centenary goal of becoming a moderately prosperous society by 2020, and embark on the second goal of becoming a modern socialist country by 2050.

He said China would "make determined efforts to comprehensively deepen reform and open still wider to the world". It would also work with other nations to build a global community with a shared future, and make new and greater contributions to peace and development for all humanity, he added.

Mr Xi is starting his second five-year term in a position of great strength at a time when China faces both challenges and opportunities. Growth is slowing, even as Chinese society is rapidly ageing. At the same time, with the United States in retreat, there is more room for China to take the lead in international affairs.

Prof Yang noted: "(Xi) is truly overflowing with confidence and power at this very moment."

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 26, 2017, with the headline 'New leadership shows Xi's pre-eminent position'. Print Edition | Subscribe