Chinese leader Xi Jinping on Sunday unveiled the newest version of the nation’s most powerful entity – the Politburo Standing Committee – showing the extent to which he dominates China.
“China has entered a new era of maximum Xi,” said Neil Thomas, an analyst of Chinese politics for the Eurasia Group, according to The New York Times.
Thomas said the results of last week’s Communist Party Congress in which Xi won a third term as China’s leader mean “more support for Xi’s policies, which means a stronger focus on political control, economic statism, and assertive diplomacy.”
Two Politburo members were pushed out — Premier Li Keqiang and Vice Premier Wang Yang. Vice Premier Hu Chunhua, who was expected to be on the Standing Committee, was passed over.
“Xi now truly owns the system, but any mistakes will also be his — unmistakably,” said Dali Yang, a professor at the University of Chicago who researches Chinese politics, according to The New York Times. “He was dominant already and is even more dominant now. He owns it.”
Longtime Xi aide and supporter Wang Huning, remained on the Standing Committee and was joined by Xi loyalist Li Qiang, according to NPR.
Although Li suffered missteps in a controversial COVID-19 lockdown in Shanghai this spring, he is now in line to become premier, the second place in the government behind Xi.
“If Li Qiang does become premier, which looks now certain, it clearly means that loyalty is more important than performance,” Tony Saich, an expert on Chinese politics at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government, told NPR.
“It speaks … to the extraordinary dominance that Xi Jinping has exerted over all the proceedings in the congress.”
Saich said Xi has surrounded himself with men who are not threats to his power.
“Even a quick glance at the Politburo … obviously doesn’t seem to indicate a person who’s there to be a successor,” Saich said. “So it’s clear Xi intends to rule. He intends to rule as the key figure. And it pushes any question of succession off into an unpredictable future. And to me, that can be destabilizing.”
One area where Xi poses a particular threat to stability is Taiwan, the breakaway island nation China claims as its own territory. Xi has a well-documented history of wanting Taiwan returned to direct control of the mainland. He has also been clear about his willingness to confront other nations — including the U.S. — if he thinks it will advance China’s interests.
The congress ended Saturday with a vivid demonstration of Xi’s power for all the world to see.
With journalists having been allowed in to record the scene, former Chinese leader Hu Jintao was escorted from the closing session of the congress, appearing uncertain of what was going on.
Hu, 79, who stepped down as party leader 10 years ago, appeared confused and reluctant to go, according to the U.K. Guardian. He was visibly pulled from his seat by a party official and physically escorted him from the room.
China’s official state-run news agency later said Hu was not feeling well.
The upshot is that Xi is now totally dominant in China.
“China is not a democracy, and as we have seen throughout the proceedings at the Party Congress, only one man’s opinion matters,” said Victor Shih, an expert on elite Chinese politics at the University of California San Diego, according to CNN.
“These are people who know [Xi] very well, whom he trusts a great deal, and they are chosen for these top-level positions because of that,” Shih said.
“So their job performance, regardless of what the international media think of it, regardless of even what a lot of Chinese people think of, is really is quite secondary here,” he said.
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