China congress: No heir anointed as Xi reveals top leadership

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China has revealed its new senior leadership committee, breaking with tradition by not including a clear successor to President Xi Jinping.

The omission cements Mr Xi’s grip on China for the next five years and possibly beyond, a day after his name was written into the constitution.

Five new appointments were made to the seven-member Politburo Standing Committee, China’s most powerful body.

The absence of an heir raises questions over how long Mr Xi intends to rule.

Apart from 64-year-old Mr Xi, premier Li Keqiang, 62, was the only committee member to retain his position.

Vice Premier Wang Yang, also 62, a former party secretary of Guangdong province, has been appointed China’s executive vice-premier.

Han Zheng, 63, the party secretary of Shanghai, has been promoted to lead the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference.

They will be joined by Zhao Leji, 60, who will lead the party’s anti-corruption body; Li Zhanshu, 67, a close Xi ally who is expected to lead China’s parliament; and Wang Huning, 62.

Standing committee

Chinese leaders have in recent decades nominated one or more possible heirs to the Standing Committee at the beginning of their final term, indicating a clear line of succession.

There had been speculation that Mr Xi would elevate his protégé Chen Miner and Guangdong party secretary Hu Chunhua, both of whom are in their fifties – young enough to be credible successors.

But the six dark-suited men who walked out on stage on Wednesday were all in their sixties and are all likely to retire at the end of this five-year term.

The absence of any younger members will fuel speculation about Mr Xi’s long-term intentions and his eventual successor.

A new Central Military Commission was also announced. It will be led by Xu Qiliang, who retains his role, and Zhang Youxia, a close Xi ally.

The announcement of the Standing Committee, as well as the 25-member Politburo, followed the close of the Communist Party congress, China’s most important political conference.

Delegates at the meeting elected the powerful Central Committee, a group with some 200 members which meets twice a year.

There had been rumours that Mr Xi would reduce the size of the Standing Committee from seven to five, further tightening his control, but they proved unfounded.

Several international news organisations, including the BBC, Financial Times and The New York Times were denied access to the announcement, at Beijing’s Great Hall of the People.

The Foreign Correspondent’s Club of China said in a statement it was “gross violation of the principles of press freedom”.

What does this mean for China’s leader?

The decision to not appoint potential successors to the Standing Committee consolidates power with Mr Xi for the next five years, and points to a continued role for him after 2022.

The party voted on Tuesday to enshrine Mr Xi’s name and ideology into its constitution, elevating him to the level of the party’s founding father, Mao Zedong.

The unanimous vote by delegates to incorporate “Xi Jinping Thought” into the constitution significantly strengthens Mr Xi’s political control of the country, making him essentially unassailable. It is also likely to ensure him continued power and influence long after his eventual retirement.

Elected president in 2012, Mr Xi began his second five-year term as of this year’s congress.

In recent history, Chinese leaders have served 10-year terms, but Mr Xi could technically stay on after 2022 as party chief and head of the military, allowing him to wield influence over the country’s leadership beyond the end of his presidency.

How has Xi changed China?

Mr Xi’s has assumed an unprecedented number of positions since coming to power in 2012, including the title of a “core” leader of China.

His first term has been marked by significant development, a push for modernisation and increasing assertiveness on the world stage.

It has also seen growing authoritarianism, censorship and a crackdown on human rights.

He has spearheaded a sweeping anti-corruption campaign which has seen more than a million officials disciplined. It has been seen by some as a massive internal purge of opponents.

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What is ‘Xi Jinping Thought’?

Graphic showing five highlights of Mr Xi's five years in office 1. expanding Chinese interests 2. coping with slowing economy 3. purging officials 4. Heightened tensions over Hong Kong's future 5. Ending on-child policy

At first glance, “Xi Jinping Thought” may seem like vague rhetoric, but it describes the communist ideals Mr Xi has continuously espoused throughout his rule.

Its 14 main principles emphasise the Communist Party’s role in governing every aspect of the country, and also include:

  • A call for “complete and deep reform” and “new developing ideas”
  • A promise of “harmonious living between man and nature” – this is a call for improved environmental conservation, and could refer to the stated aim to have the bulk of China’s energy needs supplied by renewables
  • An emphasis on “absolute authority of the party over the people’s army” – which comes amid what analysts call the largest turnover of senior military officials in modern Chinese history
  • An emphasis on the importance of “‘one country two systems” and reunification with the motherland – a clear reference to Hong Kong and Taiwan
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China’s ‘new era’

By Carrie Gracie, China editor, Beijing

Souvenir plates with images of Chinese late Chairman Mao Zedong and Chinese President Xi Jinping are seen at a shop during the ongoing 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China, in Beijing, China 21 October 2017.
The change to the constitution puts Xi Jinping (left) on par with party founder Mao Zedong (right)

Xi Jinping has always admired Chairman Mao even though his own father was once jailed in one of Mao’s purges and Xi himself spent his teenage years living in a cave and working as a farmer.

Fifty years on, he joins his hero in the pages of the party constitution, the unanimous vote of congress delegates a measure of how effective his own party purges have been. He’s claimed a new era in the history of Communist China.

Where Mao united the country and Deng Xiaoping made it rich, Xi intends to make it strong.

Having his name in the party bible means none will dare challenge him. His comrades have already started calling him the helmsman of China and saviour of socialism.

But Mao’s paranoid one-man rule inflicted terrible mistakes and misery. Back then China was shut off from the world. Now it is the greatest trading power on the globe.

If Xi fails, we’re all the poorer. And if he succeeds, his drive for control will reach us all.

BBC

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