China’s Xi Jinping extends his power for another term

In a break with tradition, China’s most powerful leader in decades has been re-elected as head of the ruling Communist Party for a further term.

BEIJING, China — President Xi Jinping, China’s most powerful leader in decades, reinforced his dominance on Sunday when, in a break with tradition, he was re-elected leader of the ruling Communist Party for another term and promoted allies who supported his vision of tighter control about supporting society and the ailing economy.

Xi, who came to power in 2012, was given a third five-year term as Secretary-General, breaking a custom that saw his predecessor resign after 10 years. The 69-year-old leader is expected to try to stay in power for life.

The party also named a seven-member Standing Committeeits inner circle of power, dominated by Xi allies after Premier Li Keqiang, the second-biggest leader and advocate of pro-market reforms and private enterprise dropped out of the lead on Saturday. This was despite the fact that Li was a year younger than the party’s informal retirement age of 68.

“Power will be even more concentrated in the hands of Xi Jinping,” said Jean-Pierre Cabestan, an expert on Chinese politics at Hong Kong Baptist University. The new appointments are “all loyal to Xi,” he said. “There is absolutely no counterweight or checks and balances in the system.”

On Saturday, Xi’s predecessor, 79-year-old Hu Jintao, said leaving a meeting abruptly of the Party Central Committee with an aide holding his arm. This raised the question of whether Xi was exercising his power by ousting other leaders. The official Xinhua News Agency later reported that Hu was in poor health and needed to rest.

Xi and other members of the Standing Committee – none of them women – made their first appearance as a group before reporters at the Great Hall of the People, the seat of China’s ceremonial legislature in central Beijing.

The No. 2 leader was Li Qiang, the Shanghai Party secretary. This puts Li Qiang, who is not related to Li Keqiang, in line to become premier, the top economic official. Zhao Leji, already a member, was promoted to No. 3 and is likely to chair the legislature. These posts are expected to be filled when the legislature meets next year.

Changes in leadership were heralded as the party concluded a twice-decade congress closely watched for initiatives to reverse economic downturns or changes a strict “zero-COVID” strategy this has paralyzed cities and disrupted business. Officials disappointed investors and the Chinese public by not announcing any changes.

The line-up appeared to reflect what some commentators dubbed “Maximum Xi,” emphasizing loyalty over skill. Some new leaders lack the national-level experience as deputy prime minister or cabinet minister, which is usually considered a requirement for the post.

Li Qiang’s promotion served as an obvious endorsement, as it would make him premier with no background in national government. Li Qiang is considered close to Xi after they worked together in the southeastern province of Zhejiang in the early 2000s.

Li Keqiang has been marginalized over the past decade by Xi, who has put himself in charge of policy-making bodies. Li Keqiang was removed on Saturday from the list of the party’s new 205-member Central Committee, from which the Standing Committee will be elected.

Another departure from the Standing Committee was Wang Yang, a pro-reformist who has been suggested by some as a possible prime minister. Wang, 67, is below retirement age.

Other new members of the Standing Committee include Cai Qi, the Beijing party secretary, and Ding Xuexiang, a career party official thought to be Xi’s “alter ego,” or chief of staff. Wang Huning, a former law school dean and chief of ideology, remained on the committee. Member No. 7 is Li Xi, the party secretary of Guangdong province in the southeast, the center of China’s export-oriented manufacturing industry.

The Central Committee has 11 women, or 5% of the total. Its 24-strong Politburo, which has had only four female members since the 1990s, has had none since the departure of Vice Premier Sun Chunlan.

Party plans call for the creation of a prosperous society by mid-century and the restoration of China’s historic role as a political, economic and cultural leader.

Those ambitions face challenges from security-related restrictions on access to Western technology, an aging workforce, and tensions with Washington, Europe, and Asian neighbors over trade, security, human rights, and territorial disputes.

Xi has called for the “great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation” and a revival of the party’s “original mission” as a social, economic and cultural leader, as a throwback to what he sees as the golden age after taking power in 1949.

During the congress Xi called for faster military development“Self-reliance and strength” in technology and defending China’s interests abroad, increasing the likelihood of further conflicts.

The party has tightened control over entrepreneurs who create jobs and wealth, and warned that rolling back pro-market reforms will weigh on economic growth, which fell to 2.2% in the first half of this year – less than half of official growth target of 5.5%.

“It’s clearly a return to a much more state-controlled type of economy,” Cabestan said. “That means they’ll be on an even tighter leash for private companies, with party committees everywhere.”

Under a revived 1950s propaganda slogan, “shared prosperity,” Xi is urging entrepreneurs to narrow China’s wealth gap by raising wages and paying for rural job creation and other initiatives.

In a report to Congress last week, Xi called for “regulating the mechanism of wealth accumulation” and suggested entrepreneurs may face even more political pressure, but gave no details.

“I would be concerned if I were a very wealthy person in China,” said Natixis economist Alicia Garcia Herrero.

In his report, Xi stressed the importance of national security and control over China’s supply of food, energy and manufactured goods. He gave no indication of possible policy changes that prompted then-President Donald Trump to launch a tariff war with Beijing in 2018 over its technological ambitions.

The party tries to promote Chinese creators of renewable energy, electric cars, computer chips, aerospace and other technologies. Its trading partners complain that Beijing unduly subsidizes its suppliers and protects them from competition.

Trump’s successor, Joe Biden, increased punitive tariffs on Chinese goods this month increased restrictions on China’s access to US chip technology.

The party has tightened control over private sector leaders, including e-commerce giant Alibaba Group. Under political pressure, they pour billions of dollars into chip development and other party initiatives. Their share prices on foreign exchanges have plummeted due to uncertainty about their future.

The party will “intensify its industrial policy” to close the “big gap” between what Chinese tech suppliers can produce and the needs of smartphone, computer and other manufacturers, Garcia Herrero and Gary Ng of Natixis said in a report .

Abroad, Chinese efforts to assert leadership will lead to “more tensions and difficulties” because “countries will not simply follow the Chinese model,” said Steve Tsang, director of the University of London’s China Institute.

As potential dissenters are expelled, “there is no one in Beijing who can tell Xi Jinping that this is not the right path,” Tsang said.

Xi gave no indication that Beijing will change its “zero-COVID” strategy, despite public frustration over repeated city shutdowns that have boiled over into protests in Shanghai and other areas.

Xi’s priorities of security and self-sufficiency will “elongate China’s productivity growth,” Capital Economics’ Julian Evans-Pritchard, Sheana Yue and Mark Williams said in a report. “His determination to remain in power makes a course correction unlikely.”

Central bank governor Yi Gang and banking supervisor Guo Shuqing were also absent from Saturday’s Central Committee list, suggesting they will retire next year as expected.

Xi suspended retirement rules to keep Gen Zhang Youxia, 72, on the Central Committee. That allows Zhang, a veteran of the 1979 Vietnam War, to remain as Xi’s vice chairman on the commission that controls the party’s military wing, the People’s Liberation Army.

The party elite agreed in the 1990s to limit the Secretary-General’s term to two five-year terms, hoping to avoid a repeat of the power struggles of previous decades. This leader also becomes Chairman of the Military Commission and assumes the ceremonial title of President.

Xi led one Anti-Corruption Raid that trapped thousands of officials, including a retired member of the Standing Committee and deputy cabinet ministers. This dissolved party factions and weakened potential challengers.

Xi is on track to become the first leader of a generation to choose his own successor, but has yet to name possible candidates. Hu Jintao and his predecessor, Jiang Zemin, were both chosen in the 1980s by then-Supreme Leader Deng Xiaoping.

Banners criticizing Xi and “zero COVID” were hung over a main thoroughfare in Beijing ahead of the congress in a rare protest. Photos of the event have been removed from social media. The popular WeChat messaging app has shut down accounts they forwarded.

The Xi government has also been criticized for mass arrests and other abuses against predominantly Muslim ethnic groups and the imprisonment of government critics. China’s Xi Jinping extends his power for another term

Laura Coffey

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