Xi Jinping unveils new line-up of Communist Party leaders, delays indicating a successor

The makeup of the Standing Committee could give an indication whether the CPC and President Xi Jinping have chosen a successor to take over the reins of the party from him in 2022.

world Updated: Oct 25, 2017 23:08 IST
Sutirtho Patranobis
Sutirtho Patranobis
Hindustan Times, Beijing
Communist Party of China,Xi Jinping,China
L-R: Former Chinese President Hu Jintao, Chinese President Xi Jinping, former President Jiang Zemin, are seen during the opening session of the 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China at the Great Hall of the People, in Beijing. (REUTERS)

Chinese President Xi Jinping on Wednesday unveiled the new members of the Communist party’s highest decision-making body who for the next five years will rule the world’s second-largest economy.

Just before noon on Wednesday, President Xi and Premier Li Keqiang – the only two remaining members of the Communist party’s 2012 politburo standing committee (SC) – led the new five members to meet journalists at the packed and ornate Eastern Hall in the Great Hall of the People in Beijing.

On Tuesday, Xi himself got a renewed mandate to continue as the general secretary of the Communist Party of China (CPC), the world’s largest political party, for another five years.

The five new members in order of seniority were: Li Zhanshu, director of the party’s general office who serves as Xi’s chief of staff; vice premier Wang Yang; Wang Huning, director of the party’s central policy research office; Zhao Leji, head of the central organization department responsible for job assignments; and Shanghai party leader Han Zheng, a veteran manager of the country’s financial hub.

Zhao is expected to head the CPC’s corruption watchdog body, the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection (CCDI), which was at the forefront of Xi’s anti-corruption campaign since 2013.


Chinese President Xi Jinping walks to the lectern to deliver his speech during the opening session of the 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China October 18, 2017. (Reuters File Photo)

While the selection procedure to the SC remains a closely-guarded secret, the composition indicates an effort to balance various interest groups in the country.

Two of the front-runners who were expected to make it to the SC – Chen Min’er, the Chongqing city party secretary and Hu Chunwa, the Guangdong province party chief – didn’t make it to the SC.

Both leaders, in their late ‘50s and considered to be part of the 6th generation of Chinese leaders, however, made it to the Politburo, the 25 member group of senior most CPC leaders including the seven SC members.

Not including the two younger leaders could be an indication that Xi has delayed indicating a successor at this year’s Congress, the key CPC event where leadership changes are announced.

All the new members of the new SC are in their 60s and would likely retire by 2022 when Xi’s term would end.

State councilor Yang Jiechi, who is the special representative for border talks with India, found a place in the Politburo as well.

Challenges for the new team

China’s new leaders face tough internal and external challenges comprising a slowing of the economy as well as increasing levels of local debt besides a more belligerent North Korea at its doorstep.

“China has a problem of a slowing economy besides an ageing society and whole lot of unresolved issues in the society,” AK Kantha, former Indian envoy to China told HT.

But Xi also sees the present as a great opportunity for China, he said.

“This point of time with the US distracted and in temporary retreat from the region, Xi sees an opening, which might not last for too long,” Kantha said.

“In the next five years to come, the two greatest domestic and foreign relations challenges facing Xi Jinping are: 1) to turn around the economic down-turn and 2) the North Korean nuclear issue.

Painted portraits of Chinese President Xi Jinping (L) and late communist leader Mao Zedong at a market in Beijing on September 19, 2017. (AFP File Photo)

Policy on neighbours

In terms of India, China will not play tough, but, instead, will try to buy peace. This is because since Xi took office, China’s border issues have become tense all around: the dispute with Japan over the Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea, the dispute with South Korea over the deployment of THAAD, and disputes in the South China Sea with the Philippines and Vietnam,”

Gao Wenqian, senior policy advisor, at New York-based Human Rights in China and author of official biographies of Mao Zedong and former Premier Zhou Enlai told HT over email

“With all this, China will not be able to afford to add fights with India to this mix. In addition, the military led by Xi is filled with internal conflicts: the top commanders don’t have faith in the rank-and-file, nor do they have their support. It is a military that is hard to deploy,” he said.

“One can predict that after the 19th Party Congress, Xi will continue his rule-by-suppression in the country, comprehensively controlling the society, and cracking down on any social forces that dare challenge the CPC. The human rights situation in China will continue to worsen. If the economy continues to slide, social conflicts will intensify, and official suppression will redouble,” Gao said.


First Published: Oct 25, 2017 07:16 IST