President Xi Jinping, China’s most powerful leader in decades, increased his dominance when he was named Sunday to another term as head of the ruling Communist Party in a break with tradition and promoted allies who support his vision of tighter control over society and the struggling economy.
Xi, who took power in 2012, was awarded a third five-year term as general secretary, discarding a party custom under which his predecessors left after 10 years. The 69-year-old leader is expected by some to try to stay in power for life.
On Saturday, Xi’s predecessor, 79-year-old Hu Jintao, abruptly left a meeting of the party Central Committee with an aide holding his arm. That prompted questions about whether Xi was flexing his powers by expelling other party leaders. The official Xinhua News Agency later reported Hu was in poor health and needed to rest.
The party also named a seven-member Standing Committee, its inner circle of power, dominated by Xi allies after Premier Li Keqiang, the No. 2 leader and an advocate of market-style reform and private enterprise, was dropped from the leadership on Saturday. That was despite Li being a year younger than the party's informal retirement age of 68.
Xi and the other Standing Committee members appeared for the first time as a group before reporters Sunday in the Great Hall of the People, the seat of China's ceremonial legislature in central Beijing.
Xi announced Li Qiang, a former Shanghai party secretary who is no relation to Li Keqiang, was the No. 2 member and Zhao Leji, a member of the previous committee, was promoted to No. 3. The No. 2 committee member since the 1990s has become premier while the No. 3 heads the legislature. Those posts are to be assigned when the legislature meets next year.
Leadership changes were announced as the party wrapped up a twice-a-decade congress that was closely watched for signs of initiatives to reverse an economic slump or changes in a severe “zero-COVID” strategy that has shut down cities and disrupted business. Officials disappointed investors and the Chinese public by announcing no changes.
The lineup appeared to reflect what some commentators called “Maximum Xi,” valuing loyalty over ability. Some new Standing Committee members lack national-level government experience that typically is seen as a requirement for the post.
The promotion of Li Qiang was especially unusual because it puts him in line to be premier despite not having experience as a Cabinet minister or vice premier. However, he is regarded as close to Xi after the two worked together early in their careers in Zhejiang province in the early 2000s.
Li Keqiang is the top economic official but was sidelined over the past decade by Xi, who put himself in charge of policymaking bodies and wants a bigger state role in business and technology development.
Li Keqiang was excluded Saturday from the list of the party’s new 205-member Central Committee, from which the Standing Committee is picked. He is due to step down as premier next year.