Chinese President Xi Jinping on Sunday promoted his closest allies into the Communist Party’s top ruling body, further consolidating his grip on power as he secures a third term as party leader.

Xi stacked the seven-member Politburo Standing Committee — the party’s apex of power — with four allies, including two of his former secretaries, in a move that flaunts his power and rewards loyalty above all, analysts said.

Current Shanghai Party boss Li Qiang — who oversaw a harsh two-month Covid-19 lockdown in the metropolis earlier this year — is likely to take over as premier from Li Keqiang, who will retire next year.

Close aide Ding Xuexiang, Guangdong Party chief Li Xi and Beijing Party boss Cai Qi were also in the new lineup, according to state media broadcasting from Beijing’s Great Hall of the People.

“It is all Xi’s people, signalling he wants to rule even beyond a third term,” said Alfed Wu Muluan, a Chinese politics expert at the National University of Singapore.

Photo: Lukas Messmer/HKFP.

The leadership reshuffle comes shortly after the party concluded its twice-a-decade Congress, a major political event in which a new Central Committee of around 200 senior Party officials is installed, then elects higher layers of the top leadership. 

Current Premier Li Keqiang is destined for retirement after the annual legislative sessions next March, as his name was not on the list of new Central Committee members.

Below are the men who will rule Beijing for the next five years, in order of seniority.


Xi Jinping

The 69-year-old was re-elected as general secretary of the Communist Party, paving the way for him to secure a third term as Chinese president at the government’s annual legislative sessions next March.

Xi Jinping. Photo: GovCN.

Xi abolished the presidential two-term limit in 2018, paving the way for him to govern indefinitely.

He has consolidated power since becoming general secretary in 2012, partly through a wide-ranging anti-corruption campaign that brought down his political rivals. 

This means that “elite promotions are less of a balancing act between rival factions and more of a loyalty contest within Xi’s dominant faction”, said Neil Thomas, senior China analyst at Eurasia Group.

Li Qiang

The former Shanghai party chief and Xi confidant was promoted to number two in the party hierarchy, making him likely to be named premier at next March’s legislative sessions.

It would be an unusual appointment since Li, unlike most past premiers, does not have experience as a vice premier managing central government portfolios. 

Li Qiang. Photo: GovCN.

The 63-year-old rising star’s prospects were seemingly in doubt after he bungled a harsh two-month lockdown of Shanghai earlier this year that saw residents left with a lack of access to food and medical care. 

This “showcases to everyone that loyalty rather than popularity is the key for your promotion”, tweeted Yang Zhang, an assistant professor at American University in Washington.

“The disaster of Shanghai Lockdown did not stop Li’s elevation precisely because he followed Xi’s order despite all criticism.”

Li is viewed as one of Xi’s favourites, having served as the leader’s chief of staff while he was party boss of the affluent Zhejiang province between 2004 and 2007.

The 65-year-old former head of the party’s top anti-corruption watchdog has remained on the Standing Committee, being promoted to number three in the party hierarchy.

Zhao Leji

Zhao Leji. Photo: GovCN.

The experienced administrator has been party secretary of two provinces and a Politburo member since 2012.

Wang Huning

Xi’s ideology tsar and existing Standing Committee member has been promoted to number four in the party lineup.

Wang Huning. Photo: GovCN.

Dubbed the “brains behind the throne”, the 67-year-old former university professor has devised ideologies for three current and former Chinese presidents, and is the architect of Xi’s “China Dream” slogan, as well as the country’s more assertive foreign policy.

In one of his most famous works, “America Against America”, he argued for the US’ inevitable downfall due to wayward cultural values like decadence and individualism.

Cai Qi

Current Beijing party chief Cai Qi has been promoted to the Standing Committee and becomes the head of the General Secretariat, managing the day-to-day affairs of the party, according to a member list released by Xinhua.

Cai Qi. Photo: GovCN.

The 66-year-old is seen as a close political ally of Xi due to his time working under him in the provinces of Zhejiang and Fujian.

He was sent to Beijing as deputy head of the General Office of the National Security Commission in 2014, before becoming Beijing party boss in 2017. He oversaw the successful Beijing Winter Olympics in February.

Ding Xuexiang

The low-key Politburo member and top aide of Xi has been promoted to the Standing Committee — an appointment widely expected by analysts for a member of the leader’s inner circle.

The 60-year-old regularly accompanies Xi on official engagements, becoming a familiar face hovering in the background of state media reports, never far from his boss.

Ding Xuexiang. Photo: GovCN.

The former head of the Communist Party’s General Office has never served as a provincial-level party boss or governor, making his appointment effectively a reward for his loyalty to Xi.

The pair became close while Ding served in the Shanghai party committee — Xi was Shanghai’s top party boss in 2007-8 — and he moved to Beijing to work as Xi’s personal secretary in 2013.

“If Xi’s two secretaries lead the (government) State Council… it will no longer be parallel with the Party, but simply one (of) many institutions under the leadership of the Party, and of Xi,” tweeted Zhang.

Li Xi

The current Politburo member and party chief of economic powerhouse Guangdong province has been promoted to the Standing Committee, in an appointment widely anticipated by observers. 

Li Xi. Photo: GovCN.

Li, 66, was confirmed as head of the powerful Central Commission for Discipline Inspection, the party’s powerful anti-graft watchdog, in a list released by Xinhua. 

Li is regarded as a confidant of Xi, having known him since the 1980s after working as secretary for a close ally of Xi’s father, revolutionary leader Xi Zhongxun. He also built up a power base in Shaanxi, Xi’s ancestral province. 

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