China’s Xi Jinping has secured a historic third term as the general secretary of the ruling Communist Party, leading the world’s most populous country into a second decade.
Mr Xi, 69, will also continue as Chairman of the Central Military Commission, the country’s two most important positions, and affirming his status as the most powerful since Mao Zedong.
On Sunday, Mr Xi revealed the lineup for the next Politburo Standing Committee, China’s most powerful governing body of seven men.
He led the team out in single file on the red carpet, in order of rank: Li Qiang, 63; Zhao Leji, 65; Wang Huning, 67; Cai Qi, 66; Ding Xuexiang, 60; and Li Xi, 66.
The prominent placement of Li Qiang, 63, suggests that he is likely to be rubber-stamped as the new premier next spring during annual legislative meetings, making him China’s second most-powerful after Mr Xi.
He was most recently party chief of Shanghai, and such a promotion could be seen as a remarkable political comeback after Covid infections roiled China’s most populous city this year and put him under significant pressure.
Mr Zhao and Mr Wang held seats on the previous standing committee and are continuing for another five years, while the rest are newcomers to the elite governing body.
All are considered to have close allegiance to Mr Xi. None appear to have the right mix of credentials and age to be designated as a successor to take the reins in another five years at the next party congress.
By installing loyalists and purging political opponents, Mr Xi appears to have cemented his ‘ruler for life’ status.
Staying on for an unprecedented third term completes Mr Xi’s campaign to scrap succession protocols that were installed by the Party after Chairman Mao Zedong’s death to prevent disastrous one-man rule from happening again.
China may be governed by one party, but there have traditionally been factional politics at play, which Mr Xi has effectively kneecapped by ousting rivals over this last decade in power.
Surrounding himself with supporters means Mr Xi may face less resistance in ploughing through his plans and priorities.
But it also means potentially less opportunity to deflect blame if his policies fail to deliver.
While China’s Communist Party has long abided by an informal retirement age of 68, the country’s ‘greats’ have stayed in power for much longer.
Chairman Mao ruled until his death at age 82, and China’s paramount leader Deng Xiaoping – credited with reforms that pushed China to become the world’s second-largest econom – also stayed in place until his death at the age of 92 in 1997