WASHINGTON: Xi Jinping has cemented his status as China’s most powerful leader in a generation by securing an unprecedented third term as head of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) during the twice-a-decade party congress that concluded this weekend in Beijing.
By extending his rule for at least another five years, and surrounding himself with allies, Xi has deviated from decades-long CPP tradition, which had emphasised regular leadership succession while avoiding an over-concentration of power.
The Politburo Standing Committee (PSC), China’s top decision-making organ, is now packed with Xi loyalists, including Shanghai Party Secretary Li Qiang, who is expected to take over for Li Keqiang as premier and become China’s second-most powerful official.
Xi also moved military commanders and officials with national security and engineering backgrounds into top leadership positions, a move that reflects his determination to prioritise China’s military and technological advancement.
The new members of China’s inner leadership circle followed Xi onto a red-carpeted stage inside the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on Sunday, where he thanked the party for “placing their trust in him.”
However, Xi’s consolidation of power has created a CCP where loyalty to him takes the highest political priority. Xi now has no obvious rivals or opponents in top positions of power.
For example, Premier Li Keqiang, considered to be more moderate than Xi, was removed from senior leadership during the party congress. And on Saturday, Xi’s predecessor Hu Jintao was unexpectedly removed from the congress, ostensibly due to “ill health.”
“All members of the Politburo are officials groomed by Xi Jinping and this outcome proves that political loyalty is very important,” said Hsin-Hsien Wang, an expert on Chinese politics at the National Chengchi University in Taiwan.
“The result shows that personnel reshuffling is no longer bound by any precedence or existing rules in the Chinese Communist Party,” Wang told DW.
It was all but certain that Xi would secure a third term after Chinese lawmakers abolished presidential term limits in 2018. Xi, at 69 years old, also changed rules on age limits for top officials, which had required officials aged 68 or older retire by the time of the next party congress.
“It seems that the purpose of doing this is not only to have a political dominance at the PSC but also to retain a magnitude of purity in terms of political loyalty at the PSC,” said Li Ling, a Chinese politics and law expert at the University of Vienna.
“I can only imagine that such a costly choice is made in order to ready the PSC to roll out some radical policies during the new term, which may risk being stymied otherwise,” she told DW.
More than 300 senior CCP members endorsed Xi’s core position in the party’s leadership while passing changes to the party charter that will ensure Xi’s vision remains central to China’s future.
Since Xi took over in 2012, he has pursued a hardline agenda across all fronts from within the CCP and Chinese domestic politics, redefining China’s place in the world.
Ongoing “anti-corruption” drives over the years have purged CCP ranks at all levels. Under Xi, Beijing has modernised its armed forces, militarised the South China Sea and doubled down on pledges for the “reunification” of Taiwan, using force if necessary.
Domestically, Xi’s policies have cracked down on press freedom and civil liberties. Xi has also maintained draconian “zero-Covid” policies, which lock down entire neighbourhoods and disrupt economic production over a handful of infections.
In the far western Xinjiang region, Beijing has cracked down on the Uyghur Muslim minority group with an iron first, forcing millions of people into “re-education camps.” With few to none guardrails on Xi’s power, China’s future is more and more in the hands of one man.