20 September 2019
Politburo Standing Committee members (from left) Xi Jinping, Li Keqiang and Li Zhanshu arrive to meet the press at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on Wednesday. Photo: Reuters
Politburo Standing Committee members (from left) Xi Jinping, Li Keqiang and Li Zhanshu arrive to meet the press at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on Wednesday. Photo: Reuters

China unveils new leadership line-up with no clear Xi successor

China’s Communist Party revealed its new leadership helmed by President Xi Jinping on Wednesday, breaking with recent precedent by failing to include a clear successor to the president among the seven-man line-up, Reuters reports.

Apart from Xi, Premier Li Keqiang was the only one to retain his spot amid sweeping changes on the Politburo Standing Committee, the height of power in the world’s second-largest economy.

Li Zhanshu, Wang Yang, Wang Huning, Zhao Leji and Han Zheng were promoted, replacing five retiring members including anti-corruption chief Wang Qishan, a key Xi ally. All seven are in their 60s, and for the first time no Standing Committee member will have been born before the 1949 Communist revolution.

Guangdong party secretary Hu Chunhua and Chongqing party boss Chen Miner had been previously seen as prominent contenders to succeed Xi among the party’s so-called sixth generation of leaders but were not included in the Standing Committee. Instead, both were named to the wider 25-member Politburo, a rung below the Standing Committee.

Xi and Li were first promoted to the Standing Committee at the 17th Party Congress in 2007, in a clear signal that the pair would succeed Hu Jintao and Wen Jiabao and occupy the top two offices, as transpired five years later.

But Sun Zhengcai, another sixth-generation contender, was abruptly removed from his post as Chongqing party secretary in July, signaling the likelihood Xi would delay naming a successor and adding to speculation that Xi could seek to stay on in some capacity beyond the end of his second term in 2022.

Li Zhanshu, who is considered the closest to Xi among those newly promoted, will likely head China’s largely rubber stamp parliament, analysts and sources have said, having held a chief-of-staff style role as head of the party’s General Office.

The parliament position will be formally decided at the annual meeting of parliament in March.

Here’s the list of the new Politburo Standing Committee, by order of seniority:

- Xi Jinping, 64, is widely seen as China’s most powerful leader since Chairman Mao Zedong. He was once viewed as a drab “princeling” child of the elite. But since soaring to power in 2012, Xi has centralized authority under his own leadership with a signature anti-graft battle. His political theory – “Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era” – was written into the Party constitution on Tuesday.

- Li Keqiang, 62, as premier has overseen China’s economy for the last five years. Li’s policies have sought to spur entrepreneurship and innovation, but he has been increasingly overshadowed by Xi, who has thrown his weight behind reforms to make state sector firms “stronger, better and bigger” and to manage financial stability.

- Li Zhanshu, 67, heads the party’s General Office. He worked his way up from Hebei province, which surrounds Beijing, and graduated from Hebei Normal University. A former governor of the northeastern province of Heilongjiang and one-time party boss of the southwestern province of Guizhou, Li Zhanshu is considered one of Xi’s closest advisors and often accompanies him on overseas trips. Their friendship dates back to their days working together in Hebei in the 1980s.

- Wang Yang, 62, is a vice premier with an economic portfolio and a former party chief of Guangdong province, an export powerhouse, where he served from 2007-2012. Born into a poor rural family in eastern Anhui province, Wang went to work in a factory at age 17 to support his family after his father died. Concerned about the impact of three decades of rapid development, he lobbied for social and political reform. However, he backed down after drawing criticism from party conservatives.

- Wang Huning, 62 this month, was a top policy researcher for the party under former presidents Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao, a position he has kept under Xi as head of the Central Policy Research Office. Wang coined the “Three Represents” and “Scientific Outlook of Development” – respectively Jiang and Hu’s contributions to party thought, as well as the “Chinese Dream”, Xi’s own vision. Wang was formerly an academic at Shanghai’s Fudan University, specializing first in international relations and then law. He is also considered one of Xi’s closest advisors.

- Zhao Leji, 60, was also named the Party’s new anti-corruption chief on Wednesday. He was named vice governor of the northwestern province of Qinghai in 1994 at age 37. Zhao spent 29 years in Qinghai before being picked by Xi to serve as party boss of Shaanxi province, in the northwest, in 2007. Both Zhao and Xi are natives of Shaanxi. Zhao heads the powerful organization department, which oversees personnel decisions, and is a Politburo member. He has a degree in philosophy from Peking University.

- Han Zheng, 63, is party chief of Shanghai, China’s financial hub, where he has spent his entire career. Han was briefly promoted from Shanghai mayor after the then-party boss was sacked amid a corruption scandal in 2006. He resumed his mayoral role as Xi Jinping and then Yu Zhengsheng – currently the party’s fourth-ranked leader – became party chief. Han became Shanghai party boss in 2012.

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The new Politburo Standing Committee of the Communist Party of China: (From left) Han Zheng, Wang Huning, Li Zhanshu, Xi Jinping, Li Keqiang, Wang Yang and Zhao Leji. Photo: Reuters