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The Guardian - UK
The Guardian - UK
Verna Yu and Emma Graham-Harrison in Taipei

Who’s who in Xi Jinping’s China as leader cements power

Xi Jinping (left) with members of the new Politburo Standing Committee Li Qiang, Zhao Leji, Wang Huning, Can Qi, Ding Xuexiang, and Li Xi at a meeting with Chinese and foreign media at he Great Hall of People on Sunday in Beijing
Xi Jinping (left) with members of the new politburo standing committee Li Qiang, Zhao Leji, Wang Huning, Cai Qi, Ding Xuexiang and Li Xi at a meeting with Chinese and foreign media at he Great Hall of People on Sunday in Beijing. Photograph: Kevin Frayer/Getty Images

China’s leader, Xi Jinping, claimed his third term in power this weekend, and swept men from rival factions out of the politburo standing committee, the seven-strong nucleus of political power in China.

It is now packed with men – there has never been a woman on the PSC – who are loyal Xi acolytes, in what one analyst described as “maximum Xi”.

They range from a friend with ties to the Xi family going back decades to more recent aides who proved their commitment as he consolidated power over the years, and the hardline ideologue who is his chief political theorist.

After Mao’s death, the Chinese Communist party (CCP) tried to normalise a collective leadership that made the general secretary of the party a kind of “first among equals” on the PSC.

That era is over. However, the PSC members still wield immense power and will be key in shaping and implementing Xi’s vision for China and the CCP.

Below are brief introductions to these seven men. New entrants to the politburo have a star (*) by their name

Politburo standing committee

Xi Jinping, 69
Xi took charge of the Communist party, and so of China, in late 2012. He has used this week to cement his power, and remove all political rivals from the politburo standing committee. He has been given another five years in power, and is likely to stay on beyond that. He his positions as general secretary of the Chinese Communist party and chair of the central military commission were renewed at the party congress. His position as president of the People’s Republic of China will almost certainly be renewed at the rubberstamp parliament, the National People’s Congress, next March.

* Li Qiang, 63
Li Qiang, a close Xi ally, is party secretary of Shanghai, which has historically been a training ground for top national leaders. He is expected to be the next premier when Li Keqiang – now out of the standing committee and headed for retirement – steps down from the premiership in March.

Li presided over the disastrous Shanghai Covid lockdown at the start of this year, doubling down on the “zero Covid” approach favoured by Xi despite a heavy economic and human cost. His elevation has widely been taken as a sign that Xi values loyalty, and familiar faces, over competence.

From 2004 to 2007, when Xi was Zhejiang province’s top party boss, Li was his chief of staff. After Xi became China’s top leader, he promoted Li first to governor of Zhejiang and then party secretary of Jiangsu province, providing him with the regional governing experience and credentials he needed for bigger roles.

Zhao Leji, 65
Zhao Leji has his roots in two impoverished western provinces – Shaanxi, his ancestral home, and Qinghai, where in 2000 he became the youngest provincial governor in the country.

He has been head of the party’s top anti-corruption watchdog, the central commission for discipline inspection, a key instrument in Xi’s strengthening CCP and personal control.

He also headed the party’s powerful Organisation Department, overseeing the appointment of all senior officials across China. He used that post to show his loyalty, placing Xi’s allies into important positions across the country during the past decade.

Wang Huning, 67
A key Xi ally, Wang is rare among senior communist cadres in having no administrative experience running a province or major city. Instead he is Xi’s political theorist, his closest adviser on ideology, propaganda and foreign policy.

A former academic known for his theories on “neo-authoritarianism”, Wang advocated a strong, centralised state to counter foreign influence. Helpfully for Xi, he also believes in strong central leadership, rejecting the collective leadership introduced after Mao Zedong’s death in an effort to avoid repeating the excesses of that era.

His official positions include serving as director of the central policy research office (CPRO) from 2002 to 2020.

* Cai Qi, 66
Cai Qi, Beijing party secretary, was the surprise entry to the PSC. He featured on some long-lists of potential candidates, but had not been widely tipped for the top.

His entry is another sign of how Xi values both loyalists and people he knew rising up through the ranks. Born in Fujian, the eastern coastal province that would shape Xi’s early career, Cai spent the start of his working life there. He moved on to nearby Zhejiang province, where Xi served as governor, before being put in charge of Beijing in 2017.

He has been a prominent champion of the Zero Covid policy embraced by Xi, and successfully oversaw the 2022 winter Olympics.

* Ding Xuexiang, 60
Ding Xuexiang is an old and trusted ally of China’s leader. He served as Xi’s political secretary when he was Shanghai party chief in 2007 and rose with him to become private secretary and gatekeeper when Xi took over the country.

He studied mechanical engineering and began his career as a researcher at the Shanghai Research Institute of Materials, before moving into party roles full time.

Ding’s behind-the-scenes roles mean he has an even lower public profile than China’s other leaders, even though the CCP is generally secretive about senior figures.

He is the youngest member of the standing committee and at 60, the only one who would be eligible under the old rules to serve another term in 2027. However, Xi has already ripped up norms on retirement age, so others could potentially stay on too.

* Li Xi, 66
Li Xi is a long-standing member of Xi’s inner circle. The two men have known each other, and reportedly been family friends, since the early 1980s when Li worked for a party veteran who was close to Xi’s father.

He has risen steadily in the party through positions across China, in Shaanxi, Shanghai and Liaoning provinces. He originally studied Chinese language and literature, but more recently did an MBA at Tsinghua University.

He is now party chief of affluent Guangdong province. There he is responsible for the development of the Greater Bay Area, Xi’s masterplan for an economic powerhouse that integrates nine Chinese cities with Hong Kong and Macau.

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