Xi Jinping has piled the top ranks of the Chinese Communist Party with loyalists, showing that China’s ever-more powerful leader values loyalty over merit – and wants power to be free from criticism or questioning.
The appointments, which were revealed on Sunday, raised fears that Xi has surrounded himself with ‘yes men’ as he leads China through what he called the ‘rough waters’ of the future, some of which are its own production. The country faces domestic economic problems and worsening global tensions as Xi doubles down on his threats to annex Taiwan.
At the end of the bi-decade party congress on Sunday, new members of the most powerful political bodies were revealed to include Xi cronies in top positions, with factional rivals swept aside.
The already poor female representation at the top was also erased. For the first time in 25 years, there were no women in political office; there has never been a woman in the highest seat of power, the standing committee of the political bureau.
As expected, Xi was reappointed for an unprecedented third term as leader of the party and as head of the military, after abolishing term limits in 2018. A decade of political purges, heightened surveillance and social control tightened resulted in the 69-year-old leader consolidating his personal power to a level not seen since Mao Zedong.
Sunday’s appointments, which also brought homeland security chiefs and military figures into his circle of power, showed that Xi had now effectively eliminated any potential opposition to his lifetime appointment, analysts said.
“The new politburo is a stark statement of Xi’s dominance over the party,” Richard McGregor, senior East Asia analyst at Sydney-based think tank Lowy Institute, told Reuters.
“Xi got rid of the old factional system as it was. He crushed expectations that he would nurture a successor. He ignored informal age limits for officials in high-level positions. .
Sung Wen-ti, a senior lecturer in political science at the Australian National University, said the lineup was “an unmistakable sign that the era of the winner takes all of politics is upon us”.
“Xi has repeatedly said that the performance indicators that matter most in Xi’s new era are political loyalty,” Sung said. “He didn’t feel the need to make room for an alternative faction, which shows his priority is projecting dominance over magnanimity, as he faces international pushback.”
On Sunday morning, the seven members of the new Politburo Standing Committee (PSC), Xi’s inner circle, were introduced to the press. Ranked on stage in descending order behind the president, the men ranged from a friend with decades of family ties, to more recent aides who have proven their commitment to his reign, and a diehard ideologue who is his leading political theorist.
High-profile figures seen as potential rivals to Xi, including Li Keqiang, who was premier, and Wang Yang, widely seen as a candidate for the next premiership but now fully removed from the 204-member central committee, walked out from the door, sending him and Li to retreat.
Hu Chunhua had been tipped as a potential new member of the PSC, but Xi found no place for the 59-year-old who was seen by some analysts as a potential threat to the leader. Hu was seen as the least Xi-aligned prospect, having risen through the ranks as a member of the Communist Youth League, Xi’s rival faction linked to former leader Hu Jintao. Hu was escorted offstage at the closing party congress on Saturday, seemingly reluctantly, in an episode that sealed Xi’s pre-eminence.
“The more Xi is surrounded by ‘yes’ men… the more he fears that Xi will only hear what people think he wants to hear, not what he needs to hear,” Professor Margaret Lewis said. , an expert in Chinese and Taiwanese law at Seton Hall University. “It’s a worrying trend and it’s hard to see it reversing as Xi’s leadership continues.”
So far, the Xi era has led China to increasingly isolate itself from the West amid tensions over human rights abuses, regional expansionism and aggression, and economic turmoil exacerbated by the militarization of trade and Beijing’s commitment to a zero Covid policy that has proven damaging to the country’s economy and beyond. Xi’s pledge to annex and “re-educate” Taiwan was written into the party’s constitution this week.
In a brief speech on Sunday, Xi said China would remain open to the world, but reaffirmed his belief in China’s dominance and again warned of navigating “rough waters” and “storms”. dangerous” in China’s future.
“Foreign investors and corporations have been desperately looking for signs that liberals or ‘reformers’ will play a role in shaping the economy or restoring an old economic order that prioritized foreign investment and liberalization of the economy,” said Drew Thompson, visiting senior researcher. researcher at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy at the National University of Singapore.
“It is clear from the results of the 20th Party Congress that national security and party political security will take precedence over economic growth.”
Xi also avoided the convention on Sunday by not replacing outgoing Deputy Prime Minister Sun Chunlan, the only female member of the PSC. It is the first time in 25 years that there is no woman in the decision-making body.
Dr Willy Lam, a senior fellow at the US-based Jamestown Foundation, said the party had at least in the past pretended to talk about gender diversity within its ranks. He said there was at least one candidate, Shen Yueyue, a former deputy director of the powerful Organization Department, who was qualified for elevation but had a background in the Communist Youth League.
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Lam also said that the exclusion of Hu, previously widely regarded as one of the best candidates for the post of prime minister due to his role as deputy premier of the State Council and his rich experience in of regional governance, sent a message of “deliberate humiliation” to the communist youth. league faction.
The inclusion of State Security Minister Chen Wenqing, an intelligence officer, in the political bureau was another sign that Xi was confident in his control over all factions, said Chinese analyst Alex Joske.
“Former state security ministers have traditionally been viewed as ‘compromise candidates’ without their own political clout, as neither faction wants the other to monopolize such powerful intelligence and security functions that could be used against political rivals,” said Joske, the author. Spies and Lies: How China’s Biggest Black Ops Fooled the World.
“Xi Jinping has purged the security apparatus heavily since becoming the leader, which shows how he both recognizes him as a potential threat and an incredible source of power. In the wrong hands, he could be used to mount resistance to Xi.The outcome of this party congress suggests that Xi now believes he has the full loyalty of his security czars.