China names Xi Jinping loyalists for core management group

China’s President Xi Jinping (L) walks with members of the new Standing Committee of the Chinese Communist Party’s Political Bureau, the nation’s top decision-making body, as they meet the media at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing October 23, 2022.

Noël Celis | AFP | Getty Images

BEIJING — Chinese President Xi Jinping broke precedent on Sunday by paving the way for his third term as president and the likely appointment of a prime minister with no prior experience to be vice prime minister.

Li Qiang, Shanghai party secretary, came second to Xi in a meeting with the press on Sunday. Li is a well-known Xi loyalist and oversaw strict Covid controls in Shanghai earlier this year.

State offices such as president and premier are not confirmed until the next annual meeting of the Chinese government, which usually takes place in March.

Outgoing Premier Li Keqiang had emerged second to Xi at a similar meeting with the press after the conclusion of the party’s 19th National Congress in 2017.

Since Li Keqiang, all the premierships of modern China, except for the first, have previously been vice premier. However, according to a state media biography, Li Qiang has not previously held a vice premier role.

In addition to Xi and Li Qiang, five other people have been appointed to the new Politburo Standing Committee, the core circle of power in the ruling Chinese Communist Party: Zhao Leji, who directs party discipline; Wang Huning, known for his work on ideology; Beijing Party Secretary Cai Qi; Ding Xuexiang, known as Xi’s chief of staff, and Li Xi, Guangdong party secretary.

Xi was re-elected as party general secretary and chairman of the Central Military Commission. His third title is President of China, which is expected to be formalized in March. With constitutional amendments in 2018, Xi set the course for an unprecedented third five-year term as president.

Li Xi has been appointed as the new head of the Party’s Central Commission for Discipline Inspection, state media said on Sunday.

China’s President Xi Jinping (C) and other members of the Standing Committee of the Chinese Communist Party’s Political Bureau meet with the media at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing October 23, 2022.

Noël Celis | AFP | Getty Images

In a speech on Sunday, Xi emphasized the party’s leadership on “a new path to transform China into a modern socialist country,” according to an official translation.

He said China cannot develop in isolation from the world, but the world needs China too. Xi claimed China will “keep opening its door wider” and the country will “deepen reforms and open up across the board and strive for high-quality development.”

Foreign companies and investors have grown wary of China after Beijing cracked down on internet tech companies and tight Covid controls over the past two years.

The Chinese Communist Party’s 20th National Congress this month was closely watched for its signals of how much Xi could consolidate his power.

Four of the previous seven members of the Politburo Standing Committee did not make it onto the list of new Central Committee members announced on Saturday. The only three who stayed were Xi, Wang Huning and Zhao Leji.

This Central Committee determines the core leadership – the Politburo and its Standing Committee.

Economic policy at the highest level in China is largely determined by members of the Politburo. However, Li Keqiang, in his role as premier and head of the State Council, China’s highest executive body, was an official face and head of implementation.

In addition to purging allegedly corrupt officials, Xi has consolidated his power over the past decade with groups that sidestepped the prime minister’s typical economic policy responsibilities, Reuters pointed out.

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Notable heads of ministries who remained on the list of the party’s new Central Committee included:

  • He Lifeng, head of the National Development and Reform Commission
  • Yi Huiman, head of China’s securities regulator
  • Zhuang Rongwen, head of the Cyberspace Administration of China

He was also appointed to the new NDRC Politburo.

Bruce Pang, JLL’s chief economist and research director for Greater China, said some of the Central Committee appointments have experience in finance and local government, hinting that “the restructuring will not lead to dramatic changes in China’s macro policies. “

“We anticipate that policy will not focus on introducing new stimulus, but on implementing existing policies and making them effective,” Pang said. “Propping up domestic demand to support jobs therefore remains crucial.”

Pang also noted that Li Qiang has previously headed three provincial-level areas, including Shanghai, which are known for their contributions to China’s “opening up” and economic growth.

Emphasis on safety and quality

Xi’s opening speech at the party’s 20th National Congress reiterated China’s greater focus on national security and “quality” growth. In fact, this departure from the high-speed growth of the past few decades means China is “facing a new situation to attract foreign investment,” said an official at the economic planner.

While Xi’s report to Congress “sends a strong message of political continuity,” it signals that there are competing goals and that some modes of economic growth are preferred over others, Gabriel Wildau, chief executive of consultancy Teneo, said in a note.

“Party leaders want advanced manufacturing and technology to be the key drivers of growth,” Wildau said.

Xi has also stressed the need for unity within the Chinese Communist Party to achieve “national rejuvenation.” The 20th National Congress, which ended on Saturday, agreed to amend the national constitution to include more “Xi thought,” according to state media.

A question of succession

For many China observers, the question is not how Xi will consolidate power, but who his successor might be.

Under Xi, China’s bureaucracy is less autonomous and more tied to him personally — especially since there are few checks on power, Yuen Yuen Ang, an associate professor of political science at the University of Michigan, wrote in July in the Journal of Democracy.

The threat to the Chinese Communist Party’s hold on power, she said, “will be succession struggles that result from Xi’s personalist rule.”

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