Loyal and experienced, China’s other top leaders take posts
TAIPEI, Taiwan (AP) — With Chinese leader Xi Jinping receiving a norms-breaking third five-year term as president on Friday, the other six men who serve with him on the ruling Communist Party’s all-powerful Politburo Standing Committee are beginning to take up their new portfolios.
All are party veterans with close personal and professional ties to Xi, China’s most powerful figure in decades.
Chief among them, the party’s second-in-command Li Qiang is widely expected to take over as premier, nominally in charge of the Cabinet and caretaker of the economy.
Li is best known for ruthlessly enforcing a brutal “zero-COVID” lockdown on Shanghai last spring.
Shortly after Xi received unanimous approval from the National People’s Congress, the party’s third-ranking official Zhao Leji was put in charge of the nearly 3,000-member ceremonial legislature.
A member of the Politburo Standing Committee until October, Han Zheng was made vice president.
Underscoring the overwhelmingly male makeup of the Chinese political elite, the Politburo Standing Committee has only men on it. The 24-member Politburo, which has had only four female members since the 1990s, also has no female officials after the departure of Vice Premier Sun Chunlan. The other key body, the 200-plus member Central Committee, remains 95% male.
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Some details about the current standing committee members in order of their party rank:
Perhaps the official closest to Xi, Li Qiang is widely expected to take over as premier, nominally in charge of the Cabinet and caretaker of the economy. Li is best known for ruthlessly enforcing a brutal “zero-COVID” lockdown on Shanghai last spring as party boss of the Chinese financial hub, proving his loyalty to Xi in the face of complaints from residents over their lack of access to food, medical care and basic services.
Li, 63, came to know Xi during the future president’s term as head of Li’s native Zhejiang, a relatively wealthy southeastern province now known as a technology and manufacturing powerhouse.
A holdover from the previous Politburo Standing Committee, Zhao Leji won Xi’s trust as head of the party’s anti-corruption watchdog, the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection, pursuing an anti-graft campaign that has frozen all potential opposition to the leader.
Zhao, 66, was made head of the National People’s Congress and its standing committee, which handles most actual legislative work. As in the case of Xi, who was also made head of the government commission overseeing the military, there were no other candidates or dissenting votes.
Another returnee from the previous standing committee, Wang Huning is from an academic background, having been a professor of international politics at Shanghai’s Fudan University and a senior adviser to two of Xi’s predecessors. Unusual for a top official, Wang, 67, has never held office at either the local or central government level.
Wang is known for authoring books critiquing Western politics and society, and on Friday was named as head of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, the NPC’s advisory body that, in coordination with the party’s United Front Department, works to build the Xi’s influence and image abroad.
As leader of the capital since 2017, Cai Qi oversaw the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics amid the COVID-19 pandemic, which has been celebrated by the party as a victory. Cai, 67, also oversaw the forcible eviction of thousands of migrant workers from rundown urban neighborhoods and kept COVID cases relatively low in Beijing without enacting the harsh measures seen in Shanghai and elsewhere.
Cai, who holds a doctorate in economics, also entered into Xi’s political orbit in the Zhejiang political scene. An early adopter of Chinese social media, Cai is also among the very few top officials to have visited Taiwan, praising the island’s ubiquitous convenience stores in a 2012 posting for Caixin magazine’s website. He’s expected to be put in charge of propaganda and messaging.
As director of the party’s General Office since 2017, Ding Xuexiang has effectively served as Xi’s chief of staff, notably present on state visits and meetings with foreign leaders. Like Wang, Ding has never held government office but sits at the center of party affairs just below the Politburo.
Still just 60, Ding’s career took off after he was appointed secretary to Xi during his brief term as Shanghai party head. He is expected to be appointed first vice premier overseeing administrative matters.
Prior to his appointment to the standing committee, Li Xi, 66, headed Guangdong province, one of China’s wealthiest regions and the base of its vast manufacturing sector. He earlier served as party secretary of Mao Zedong’ s famed revolutionary base of Yan’an and had became an early pioneer in what is known as “red tourism,” promoting sites hallowed to the party’s history prior to its seizure of power in 1949.
A close Xi confidante, Li has already been appointed to replace Zhao as head of the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection.