© Stocksak. After his speech, the Chinese President Xi Jinping waves to the media as the new Politburo Standing Committee members meet the press following the 20th National Congress of the Communist Party of China at the Great Hall of the People, Beijing, China, October 23, 2022. RE
By Yew Lun Taian and Tony Munroe
BEIJING, Stocksak – China has completed its twice-a decade leadership reshuffle. Xi Jinping secured a third term in the role of general secretary of the ruling Communist Party. He also packed the new Politburo Standing Committee along with allies.
Xi’s third term, a record-breaking one, secures his position as China’s most powerful leader after Mao Zedong (founder of the People’s Republic of China).
Here are some key takeaways from this 20th party congress
XI’S MEN IN
The new Politburo Standing Committee, which is comprised entirely of Xi loyalists and includes Shanghai party chief Li Qiang. Li Keqiang is expected to be replaced as premier in March.
Xi broke with a tradition that had been established to balance factional checks and balanceds since Mao’s death in 1976. He created a leadership structure of loyalists at extreme ends of predictions. Analysts had hoped or expected the inclusion of a token member who was not allied to Xi.
Three of the four new members to the Standing Committee owe their political rise and the fourth is thought to be closely aligned to him.
All except Guangdong party head Li Xi worked with Xi during the 2000s in affluent Zhejiang provincial or in Shanghai. They were promoted after or during their time with Xi, a sign they had earned his trust.
“It’s truly remarkable in the sense that it’s almost like a break from the past 40 plus years. Xi is the Chinese leader that really got to choose his own team,” Dali Yang, professor of politics at the University of Chicago, said.
“We see victory for (the] ‘Zhejiang arm’ – persons who were close to Xi Jinping and had career paths in that region – and the elimination or very little of other factions,” stated Bates Gill of the Center for China Analysis, Asia Society Policy Institute in New York.
MORE POWER, MORE ACCOUNTABILITY
After he has surrounded his leadership team and amended the party constitution to enshrine Xi’s authority, ideas and “core”, Xi now has complete freedom to create and implement policy, whether it is good or bad.
Analysts warn that it will be harder to assign blame if things go wrong. It can also lead to a echo chamber of group-think where other voices aren’t heard and critical feedback is withheld.
Yang Zhang, assistant professor at American University’s School of International Service, stated that Xi’s “autocracy might provoke stronger international pressure from the U.S. Western countries.” All of these scenarios will make his third, and likely fourth terms difficult than anticipated.
Xi opened congress with a speech indicating continuity of policy direction. He also rebranded his vision of the path ahead as “Chinese Style Modernisation” and stressed security within an increasingly dangerous world.
Ja Ian Chong is a political scientist at National University Of Singapore. He believes that the outcome will lead to more assertiveness by China in foreign policy, security, and foreign policy.
Chong stated that the party-state direction of economic policy is likely to be more direct.
Alvin Tan of RBC Capital Markets Singapore’s Asia FX Strategy predicted that Xi would prefer a harsh zero-COVID eradication policy to become “more established”.
Xi was not the only one to break the norms that had guided China’s elite political system for many years.
By excluding Li Keqiang and Wang Yang, both 67, from the party Central Committee and Standing Committee, Xi broke with the “seven-up/eight-down” rule that those aged 67 or under would remain for another five years.
Without explanation, he also reduced the Politburo from 25 to 24, meaning that close votes could be decided by a tiebreaker.
Alfred Wu, associate professor at The National University of Singapore, stated that Xi practicing ‘one-man politics’, there’s no need for a tiebreaker and everyone will vote according what Xi wants.
The Politburo is also without a woman for the first 20 years. A woman has never been elected to the Standing Committee.
NO SUCCESSOR IN SIGHT
Xi joined China’s Standing Committee as a member in 2007. It was evident from his age and the composition of the committee, that he was on track for replacing Hu Jintao, China’s party general secretary. Hu’s second term ended 2012, so it was obvious that Xi was already in line to succeed Hu Jintao.
Since Xi assumed power, there has not been an heir-apparent. He kept it that way on Sunday.
None of the new members of the Standing Committee are too young to assume the presidency in 2027, and then serve two terms under the rules of Chinese politics. Ding Xuexiang (60) is the youngest.
Analysts say that Xi’s inability to find a successor suggests that he may want to stay beyond three terms. This will increase policy risk and predictability, the analysts add.
A lack of a successor can pose a key-man risk – Xi is 69 – and undermine the orderly leadership transition norms, which were in place after 1966-1976 Cultural Revolution to prevent a repeat of Mao’s struggles to hold on to power indefinitely.
NOT TROUBLE FREE
The build-up to the party Congress was not easy. China faced a severe economic slowdown, frustration about zero-COVID, worsening relations and a slowdown in its economy.
Drama was also part of the congress.
At Saturday’s closing ceremonies, Hu Jintao, the former President of China, was escorted away from the stage. He had been seated next Xi. Hu, who was 79 years old, seemed unsteady when he had been assisted onto the same stage last week. However, he refused to leave as the stewards escorted his out.
Last Sunday’s congress opening was marked by a protester being dragged onto the grounds of the Chinese consulate in Manchester, England. Police are currently investigating the incident.
Beijing authorities removed rare banners expressing political protest from an overpass in Beijing just days before the congress began. The slogans called for Xi’s resignation and the end of strict COVID policies.