China’s Xi is expanding his powers and promoting his allies
President Xi Jinping, China’s most powerful leader in decades, stepped up his dominance on Sunday when he broke with tradition and ran for another term as head of the ruling Communist Party, emboldening allies who support his vision for tighter control of the struggling society and economy. . .
Xi, who came to power in 2012, won a third five-year term as general secretary, breaking a tradition his predecessor abandoned after 10 years. The 69-year-old leader is expected by some to try to stay in power for life.
The party also appointed a seven-member standing committee dominated by Xi allies after the No. 2 leader and Premier Li Keqiang, a proponent of market-style reforms and private enterprise, was removed from the leadership on Saturday. It was good that Li was a year younger than the party’s unofficial retirement age of 68.
“Power will be more concentrated in the hands of Xi Jinping,” said Jean-Pierre Cabestan, an expert on Chinese politics at Hong Kong Baptist University. He said the new appointees were “all loyal to Xi”. “There are no checks and balances or checks and balances in the system.”
On Saturday, Xi’s predecessor, Hu Jintao, 79, abruptly left a meeting of the party’s Central Committee with an aide holding his arm. This has raised questions about whether Xi has expanded his power by ousting other leaders. The official Xinhua News Agency later reported that Hu was in poor health and needed rest.
Xi and other members of the Standing Committee – none of whom were women – appeared before reporters for the first time at the Great Hall of the People in central Beijing, where China’s ceremonial legislature sits.
The No. 2 leader was Shanghai Party Secretary Li Qiang. This puts Li Qiang, who is not related to Li Keqiang, in line to become prime minister, a top economic official. Zhao Leji, already a member, moved up to No. 3, likely to lead the legislature. Those positions will be vacated when the legislature convenes next year.
The leadership changes were announced as the party wraps up its twice-a-decade convention, closely watched for initiatives to address the economic crisis or changes to a draconian “zero-Covid” strategy that has shut down cities and disrupted business. Officials have disappointed investors and the Chinese public by not announcing any changes.
This lineup reflected what some commentators called “Maximum Xi,” valuing loyalty over ability. Some new leaders lack experience at the national level, such as Deputy Prime Minister or Cabinet Minister, which is generally considered a requirement for the position.
Li Qiang’s promotion served as an obvious endorsement, as it prepares him to become prime minister with no national government experience. Li Qiang is considered close to Xi after working together in southeastern Zhejiang province in the early 2000s.
Li Keqiang has been ousted by Xi, who has taken over the decision-making bodies for the past decade. Li Keqiang was removed from the list of the new 205-member Central Committee from which the party’s Standing Committee was elected on Saturday.
Another departure from the Standing Committee was reformist Wang Yang, who some suggested as a possible prime minister. 67-year-old Wang has not yet reached retirement age.
Other new members of the Standing Committee include Beijing party secretary Cai Qi and career party official Ding Xuexiang, who is considered Xi’s “alter ego” or chief of staff. Former law school dean Wang Huning, head of ideology, remained on the committee. Member No. 7 is Li Xi, party secretary of the southeastern province of Guangdong, the center of China’s export-oriented manufacturing industry.
There are 11 women in the Central Committee or 5% of the total number. The 24-member Politburo, which has only had four female members since the 1990s, has had no members since the departure of Vice Premier Sun Chunlan.
The party’s plans call for creating a prosperous society by mid-century and restoring China’s historic role as a political, economic and cultural leader.
Those ambitions face obstacles related to security of access to Western technology, an aging workforce and tensions with Washington, its European and Asian neighbors over trade, security, services, human rights and territorial disputes.
Since taking power in 1949, Xi has called for a “great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation” and a revival of the party’s “true mission” as a social, economic and cultural leader to return to what he sees as a golden age.
At the congress, Xi called for faster military development, “confidence and power” in technology and the defense of China’s interests abroad, raising the possibility of a new conflict.
The party has tightened controls on job- and wealth-creating entrepreneurs, prompting warnings that the rollback of market-oriented reforms will hurt economic growth to 2.2% in the first half of this year, less than half the official 5.5%. target.
“Obviously, this is a return to a more state-led type of economy,” Cabestan said. “It’s going to be more tied to party committees everywhere for private companies.”
Under “common prosperity,” the new propaganda slogan of the 1950s, Xi is calling on entrepreneurs to help close China’s wealth gap by raising wages, funding rural job creation and other initiatives.
Xi called for “regulating the mechanism of wealth accumulation” in a report to Congress last week, saying entrepreneurs could face further political pressure, but gave no details.
“If I were a very wealthy person in China, I would be worried,” said Alicia Garcia Herrero, an economist at Natixis.
In his report, Xi stressed the importance of national security and control of China’s supply of food, energy and industrial products. He gave no hint of possible changes to the policies that prompted then-President Donald Trump to launch a tariff war with Beijing in 2018 over its technology ambitions.
The party seeks to support Chinese creators of renewable energy, electric cars, computer chips, aerospace and other technologies. Its trading partners complain that Beijing unjustifiably subsidizes its suppliers and shields them from competition.
Trump’s successor, Joe Biden, increased punitive tariffs on Chinese goods and increased restrictions on China’s access to American chip technology this month.
The party has tightened its grip on private sector leaders, including e-commerce giant Alibaba Group. Under political pressure, they channel billions of dollars into chip development and other party initiatives. Their stock prices in foreign markets have fallen due to uncertainty about their future.
Natixis’ Garcia Herrero and Gary Ng said in a report that the party will “strengthen industrial policy” to close the “huge gap” between what Chinese tech suppliers can do and the needs of smartphone, computer and other manufacturers.
Steve Tsang, director of the University of London’s China Institute, said China’s efforts to assert its leadership abroad would lead to “more tensions and difficulties” because “countries will not just follow the Chinese model.”
With potential dissidents kicked out, “No one in Beijing can tell Xi Jinping that this is not the way it is going,” Tsang said.
Xi has given no indication that he will change Beijing’s “zero-Covid” strategy, despite public frustration over repeated city lockdowns that have turned into protests in Shanghai and other regions.
Capital Economics’ Julian Evans-Pritchard, Sheana Yue and Mark Williams said in a report that Xi’s security and self-sufficiency priorities “will stunt China’s productivity growth.” “His determination to stay in power makes course correction difficult.”
Central Bank Governor Yi Gang and banking regulator Guo Shuqing were also absent from the Central Committee list on Saturday, saying they would retire next year as planned.
Xi suspended retirement rules to keep 72-year-old General Zhang Youxia on the Central Committee. This allows Zhang, a veteran of the 1979 Sino-Vietnam War, to remain Xi’s vice chairman on the commission that oversees the party’s military wing, the People’s Liberation Army.
The party elite agreed in the 1990s to limit the secretary general to two five-year terms, hoping to avoid a repeat of the power struggles of previous decades. This leader also becomes the chairman of the military commission and receives the title of ceremonial president.
Xi has launched an anti-corruption campaign that has ensnared thousands of officials, including retired Standing Committee members and deputy ministers. This fractured party factions and weakened potential rivals.
Xi is on track to become the first leader in a generation to choose his own successor, but has yet to name any potential candidates. Hu Jintao and his predecessor Jiang Zemin were both elected in the 1980s by then-Supreme Leader Deng Xiaoping.
Ahead of the congress, banners criticizing Xi and “zero COVID” were hung over a major highway in Beijing in a rare protest. Photos from the event have been deleted from social media. Popular messaging app WeChat has blocked accounts that referred them.
Xi’s government has also come under fire for mass arrests and other abuses against mainly Muslim ethnic groups and the jailing of government critics.
AP video producer Caroline Chen contributed.