President Xi Jinping was formally reappointed head of the Communist Party Wednesday, commanding a new ruling council whose role will likely be eclipsed after he established himself as China’s most powerful leader in decades.
In a highly choreographed event, Xi led the new members of the elite Politburo Standing Committee in front of television cameras at Beijing’s massive Great Hall of the People after their selection by 204 party officials in a closed-door vote.
Xi, 64, secured a second five-year term as general secretary after his eponymous political theory was enshrined in the Communist Party constitution, giving him an inviolable mandate to rule and possibly positioning him to retain power for decades to come.
His reappointment capped a twice-a-decade congress of the Communist Party that gave him a freer hand to accomplish his ambition of turning China into a global superpower with a world-class military by mid-century.
Premier Li Keqiang, 62, also retained his seat on the seven-member committee.
Five other men replaced comrades who had reached an informal retirement age of 68. They are all 60 or older, a possible indication that none are lined up to succeed Xi at the next congress in 2022.
Xi himself was elevated to the committee in 2007, when he was 54, and succeeded Hu Jintao as general secretary and president five years later.
Despite their promotion to the nation’s highest leadership circle, the new committee members are likely to have much less influence than their predecessors under a newly empowered Xi.
The constitutional amendment, which the congress passed Tuesday, has put Xi in the rarefied company of the nation’s founder Mao Zedong, and Deng Xiaoping, the architect of its economic reforms.
Locus of power
The document’s “all-round embracing of Xi’s thought reflects the high degree of consensus the Party has built around its leadership core,” the state-run China Daily wrote in an editorial Wednesday.
The accolade firmly establishes Xi as the country’s locus of power, potentially upending the collective model of leadership promoted by Deng and embraced by Xi’s two predecessors, Hu Jintao and Jiang Zemin, who both stepped down after two terms.
In the past two administrations, decisions were the result of horse-trading and consultation among members of the standing committee, the council of party elders which has led China since Deng’s death in 1997.
But with his name in the constitution, Xi has become the nation’s ultimate authority, likely giving him the last word on all major decisions.
The five new committee members include Xi confidant Li Zhanshu, 67, vice premier Wang Yang, 62, leading Communist Party theoretician Wang Huning, 62, party organisation department head Zhao Leji, 60, and Shanghai party chief Han Zheng, 63.
At least one important figure did not make the cut, as Xi’s right-hand man Wang Qishan, 69, vacated his standing committee seat.
Analysts had thought the leader of the country’s anti-corruption campaign might be kept on in defiance of the party’s unofficial guideline that cadres retire at 68.