Xi Could Rule For "Decades" As China's New Leadership Team Unveiled

Xi solidified his power base with loyalists without signalling a successor. It’s looking increasingly like China and the rest of the world will be stuck with Xi Jinping beyond 2022.

As the BBC reports, 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, while 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. Chinese leaders have in recent decades hinted at 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 50s - young enough to be credible successors. But the six dark-suited men who walked out on stage on Wednesday were all in their 60s 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. There had been rumors that Mr Xi would reduce the size of the Standing Committee from seven to five, further tightening his control, but they proved unfounded.

The apparent absence of potential successors in the Standing Committee consolidates power with Mr Xi for the next five years, and points to a continued role for him after 2022.

Meanwhile, several of the world’s highest profile media organizations were excluded from the event as the BBC lamented: 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".

Did they expect press freedom?

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Back to Xi, who in Bloomberg’s opinion, could rule China for “decades.”

Chinese President Xi Jinping unveiled a new leadership line-up that included no clear potential heirs, breaking with a quarter-century-old succession system and raising the chances that he might seek to stay in office beyond 2022. All five men appointed to join Xi and Premier Li Keqiang on the Politburo Standing Committee will be too old to rule for a decade after Xi finishes his second term. Those promoted were Xi chief of staff Li Zhanshu, 67; Vice Premier Wang Yang, 62; party theorist Wang Huning, 62; party personnel chief Zhao Leji, 60; and Shanghai party secretary Han Zheng, 63. “Forty years of reform and opening up has made it possible for our people to lead decent, even comfortable lives,” Xi said in remarks to reporters in Beijing. “It’s my conviction that the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation will become a reality.” The new line up -- coupled with revisions to the party charter that elevated Xi’s status -- lays the groundwork for him to influence the world’s second-biggest economy for decades to come. Last week he outlined a vision to turn China into a leading global power by 2050, with a thriving middle class, strong military and clean environment. "Xi’s strength also means he does not have to accept a designated successor from his predecessors,” said Dali Yang, a political scientist with the University of Chicago. “Now that he is the undisputed leader, the next five years should be calmer than the last five.”

On the Politburo, however, there are some potential successors according to Bloomberg.

The Politburo featured three younger officials who could potentially succeed Xi. They included Chen Miner, 57, Chongqing party chief and former Xi aide; Ding Xuexiang, 55, who appears in line to become Xi’s new chief of staff; and Hu Chunhua, 54, Guangdong party chief and the protege of Xi’s predecessor. The group also included Liu He, one of Xi’s closest financial and economic advisers, and Yang Jiechi, a former foreign minister who becomes the first top diplomat on the Politburo since 1992…While Xi could still promote a successor at any point, Wednesday’s announcement signalled a willingness to depart from the norms established by Deng and return China to a personality-driven model that allocates him even greater authority. Joseph Fewsmith, a political science professor at Boston University who has studied China’s elite politics for more than three decades, said that naming an heir now would’ve weakened Xi as the future leader acquires political power. “Doing so would make Xi something of a lame duck,” Fewsmith said before the announcement. “I’ve always believed Xi Jinping is a three-term guy. It’s quite clear Xi sees himself as one of the big three leaders, after Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping.”

Bloomberg provides more details of the other six members of the Politburo Standing Committee who followed Xi (in order of rank) on to the stage of the Great Hall of the People.

The new line-up chosen after the Communist Party’s twice-a-decade congress surrounds Xi with proven loyalists to advance his ambitious plans to cement one-party rule and complete China reemergence as a great power. Here’s a look at the officials who will help Xi run China for the next five years, in the order they appeared:

Li Keqiang, 62

Once seen as a contender for the presidency, Li Keqiang watched Xi win the top job and instead became premier, overseeing the day-to-day affairs of the government. The job appeared a natural fit for Li who holds a Ph.D in economics and served as top lieutenant to former Premier Wen Jiabao. During his tenure, Li has advocated a radical reduction in bureaucracy, and once said that unleashing market forces would be “very painful and even feel like cutting one’s wrist.” His image took a hit during the 2015 stock market rout and Xi has quickly assumed many economic and diplomatic roles held by past premiers. Still, if there’s any gap between Xi’s vision and Li’s, outsiders haven’t been allowed to see it. Li remains one of the most public voices for the president’s economic policies.

Li Zhanshu, 67

Before becoming Xi’s chief of staff in 2012, Li Zhanshu toiled for decades in rural obscurity, writing poetry and serving in positions spanning from China’s ancient heartland of Shaanxi to the rust belt province of Heilongjiang. His ties with Xi stretch back to the 1980s, when they served in adjacent counties in the the central province of Hebei. That relationship came in handy, when he was plucked to lead the party’s General Office, a powerful agency that oversees the itineraries of all top leaders and serves as the president’s de facto chief of staff. Li’s portfolio has since expanded even further. Not only is he among an exclusive group of top officials who accompany Xi’s on diplomatic visits, he’s also become the leader’s personal liaison to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Wang Yang, 62

Wang Yang rose to prominence before the 2012 party congress as a leading voice in an unusually public debate about China’s economy. He supported a relatively liberal package of policies -- called the “Guangdong model,” for the southern industrial province he ran at the time -- that allowed a greater role for non-profits and trade unions. He even made Time Magazine’s most-influential list after bringing pro-democracy protests in the fishing village of Wukan to a peaceful resolution. His approach contrasted with Bo Xilai’s “Chongqing model,” which emphasized social cohesion and the role of the state. Both seemed destined for the Standing Committee, before Bo’s spectacular fall amid graft allegations. Wang also missed the cut, but ended up a vice premier in charge of economic policies and a key liaison to the U.S.

Wang Huning, 62

After two decades in Beijing quietly shaping China’s most consequential policies, Wang Huning has reached the pinnacle of power. The former dean of Fudan University Law School has long been China’s preeminent political theorist and foreign policy guru, advising three presidents. Wang helped draft Jiang Zemin’s “Three Represents,” which drew entrepreneurs, capitalists and intellectuals under the party’s umbrella. As an academic, he studied power transitions and legal systems and advocated the strengths of strong central leadership over fractious democratic systems. Having served as the Central Committee’s Policy Research Office for the past 15 years, his ascension to the Standing Committee dovetails with Xi’s increased emphasis on communist ideology.

Zhao Leji, 60

Zhao Leji is among a handful of officials who have risen recently from far outside the political power centers of Beijing and Shanghai. Zhao spent almost three decades climbing the ranks in Qinghai, a northwestern province bigger than Texas at the crossroads of some of the country’s largest ethnic groups. He eventually become the country’s youngest provincial leader, overseeing the doubling of Qinghai’s economy. After a stint running nearby Shaanxi province, he was catapulted to the top of one of the party’s most powerful offices, the Organization Department. The office holds sway over appointments to senior patronage jobs across the country, from provinces to central party agencies. That made him instrumental in Xi’s efforts to position allies ahead of the current reshuffle.

Han Zheng, 63

For the first time in a three-decade career, Han Zheng is leaving Shanghai. His rise through a single city -- even one as prestigious as the eastern financial center -- is unusual for a party that grooms leaders by transferring them around the country. Han’s ascension to the Standing Committee is all the more remarkable after the shocking 2006 downfall of his then boss Chen Liangyu amid bribery charges and clashes with party central. Han has overseen the once-gray former colony transformed into a shimmering monument to modernity. As mayor, he led a $44 billion infrastructure makeover for the 2010 Shanghai Expo. He has faced challenges since taking over as Shanghai party chief in 2012, from runaway property prices to lackluster interest in a new free-trade zone to a New Year’s stampede that killed 36.