Xi has shaken up China’s power order, but experts say he is still in control
- Last month, Xi Jinping announced who would join him as the top seven officials in China.
- His new line-up is radically different from the committee that ruled with him from 2017 to 2022.
- Experts told Insider that the world should expect no change from Xi’s new leadership team.
On October 23, President Xi Jinping revealed who would be China’s power men for the next five years.
As he walked past a golden gate to meet the press at the Great Hall of the People, six officials followed him in a specific order: Li Qiang, Zhao Leji, Wang Huning, Cai Qi, Ding Xuexiang, and Li Xi.
The new composition is a radical change from the committee that ruled China from 2017 to 2022. Only two of the six former members of the Politburo Standing Committee, Zhao and Wang, survived the transition. The other four have reached retirement age or have been dismissed.
Insider sat down with two experts to discuss the top three members of China’s Politburo Standing Committee — Li, Wang and Zhao — and what their appointments say about Xi’s leadership style.
Li Qiang, Xi’s trusted aide
Propelled to the post of second-in-command by Xi, Li is considered one of the president’s closest proteges. He worked as the leader’s chief of staff when Xi ruled Zhejiang province from 2004 to 2007.
“Xi Jinping always uses his elders. People who worked with him in Zhejiang and Fujian. That’s Xi Jinping’s style,” Alfred Wu, associate professor at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, told Insider. from the National University of Singapore.
Li’s appointment as No. 2 is perhaps the best indicator of Xi’s grip on power. He was not even on the previous seven-member committee and had become deeply unpopular due to his disorderly handling of a two-month lockdown in Shanghai.
“A lot of people speculated that Li would be demolished after the Shanghai lockdowns,” Wu said. “But he is Xi Jinping’s people. This message is so important.”
“This clearly shows that Li did not take full responsibility and he was not the one who carried the blame for the implementation problems in Shanghai,” Dylan Loh, professor of public policy and public policy, told Insider. in Global Affairs at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore.
Zhao Leji, voice of ‘Shaanxi Gang’
Zhao previously served as the head of Xi’s powerful Disciplinary Committee, or CCDI, a regulatory body designed to crack down on widespread corruption among China’s elite and at the heart of Xi’s signature anti-corruption campaign.
It was during Zhao’s tenure as head of the CCDI that the agency began its jaw-dropping crackdown on big tech, a sector that had – until then – seen rampant growth in China.
Having been the lowest-ranked member of the previous standing committee, Zhao jumped four positions to gain his current role.
“Giving Zhao the third position could be an incentive or a reward. This tells me that Xi Jinping is satisfied with the work done by Zhao,” Loh said.
However, Zhao was also known to have taken a “largely hands-off approach” during his tenure and did not devote much time to investigations, wrote Chun Han Wong and Keith Zai of The Wall Street Journal.
Wu thinks Zhao’s appointment has more to do with his relationship with Xi. He is part of the “Shaanxi Gang”, a group of Communist Party leaders hailing from Xi’s home province of Shaanxi, and grew up with him.
According to analysts at the Brookings Institution, Zhao is often seen as a spokesperson for the Shaanxi Gang.
“It doesn’t mean that Zhao was a childhood friend of Xi. Other former powerful leaders had more important relationships with Xi in his youth. But he is part of the club,” Wu said.
Wang Huning, Xi’s ideologue
Wang is known among Chinese scholars as a survivor, Wu said. Some compare him to a roly-poly toy or a doll with a rounded bottom because he did not fall in the service of the last three Chinese regimes under Xi, Hu Jintao and Jiang Zemin, added the professor.
Widely considered the mastermind behind Xi’s policies and ideologies, Wang also helped Hu and Jiang craft their own political theories — an important mechanism that sets the tone for their administration’s regime.
Wang has become “indispensable” to Xi because of his expertise in crafting political themes and slogans, which are vital to Xi’s legitimacy in China, Loh said.
“Xi increasingly turned to ideologies as a mainstay of his rule,” Loh said. “Mao resorted to violence, Deng Xiaoping resorted to money and growth.”
“Violence is unthinkable these days, and money is a limited resource,” the professor added.
In 1991, Wang published a book titled “America Against America”, which documents his prediction of a decline in US dominance and stability due to the country’s emphasis on ” individualism, hedonism and democracy”.
When the Capitol Riot happened last year, the book sold out in Chinese online marketplaces, Bloomberg reported.
Much of this is echoed in China’s diplomatic and political rhetoric today. But Wang also played a key role in creating Hu and Jiang’s ideologies that China had a positive relationship with the United States and opened its economy more to Western trade.
It’s still Xi’s China
Even with Xi’s new committee lined up, the world should expect no change from China’s new leadership, the two China policy experts said. With Xi still at the helm, differences in governing ideologies or economic policy among his six-member committee are now inconsequential, they said.
Wu said Zhao may have helped shape and refine Xi’s ideologies, but their essence comes from the president, not his political theorist: “When the emperor has so many people serving his cause, the emperor must take full responsibility”.
“Xi Jinping says it very clearly. He is the commander,” Wu added. “But a top leader will never claim to be in charge of everything, because then one would also have to take responsibility for everything.”