The New Politburo Standing Committee in China

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By Alexander Chipman Koty

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China has unveiled the new lineup of its top leadership, a day after the 19th National Party Congress of the Communist Party of China ended.

Chinese President Xi Jinping led the new Politburo Standing Committee (PSC) – the most powerful political body in China – onto a stage in the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, revealing China’s top leaders for the next five years.

In order of seniority, the seven-person PSC consists of Xi, Premier Li Keqiang, Li Zhanshu, Wang Yang, Wang Huning, Zhao Leji, and Han Zheng.

Xi and Li Keqiang are the only two holdovers from the previous PSC. Stepping down from the PSC are Zhang Dejiang, Yu Zhengsheng, Liu Yunshan, Wang Qishan, and Zhang Gaoli, who are all 68 or older. According to Party norms, any politician aged 68 or older at a Party congress should retire from his or her post.

The announcement ends months of speculation among China watchers about the composition of the new PSC.

Notable absences from the new PSC include Wang Qishan, Chen Min’er, and Hu Chunhua, among others. Some observers expected the Party to make an exception to the retirement rule to keep Wang Qishan on the PSC because of his importance in leading Xi’s anti-corruption campaign and his economic acumen. Chen and Hu, meanwhile, were watched closely because their younger age made them stand out as potential successors to Xi and Li Keqiang.

There was also speculation that Xi would reduce the PSC to five members. However, it ultimately remained at seven.

The new PSC will be tasked with leading China and implementing Xi’s ambitious vision until the next Party congress in 2022. They face many daunting challenges in the coming years, including grappling with slowing economic growth, developing economic reforms, combating pollution, eliminating corruption, carrying out the Belt and Road Initiative, and dealing with the US and its Asian neighbors.

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Here is an introduction to China’s top leadership for the 2017-2022 period:

Xi Jinping

Xi Jinping, 64, retains his spot on top of the Party pecking order, entering his second term as General Secretary and third term on the PSC.

Xi is considered China’s most powerful leader since at least Deng Xiaoping, and perhaps even Mao Zedong. At the 19th Party Congress, he became the only leader besides Mao to have his name written into the Party constitution while living. Last year, he earned the designation of “core leader” of the Party, a title his predecessor Hu Jintao did not obtain.

Xi also holds the titles of President of the People’s Republic of China and Chairman of the Central Military Commission.

Born in Beijing, he is the son of Party legend Xi Zhongxun. During the Cultural Revolution, he lived in a cave and performed manual labor in Shaanxi province. Before rising to the PSC in 2007, Xi held leadership positions in Fujian and Zhejiang provinces, as well as a brief stop in Shanghai.

Li Keqiang

Li Keqiang, 62, continues to hold the number two position on the PSC as Premier of the State Council, China’s cabinet. The position makes him head of the Chinese government and economic affairs.

Li holds a PhD in economics from China’s prestigious Peking University, and is known to hold more market-oriented policy preferences than many others in the Party. He rose through Party ranks as a member of the Communist Youth League, and was a protégé of former president Hu Jintao, who reportedly wanted Li to be his successor.

Prior to joining the PSC alongside Xi in 2007, Li held leadership posts in Henan province from 2002 to 2004 and Liaoning province from 2004 to 2007. He was born in Hefei, the capital of Anhui province.

Although he carries several responsibilities as Premier, including instituting economic reforms and combatting pollution, he is generally considered less powerful than his predecessors Wen Jiabao and Zhu Rongji.

Li Zhanshu

Li Zhanshu enters the PSC as the third-ranking member. He is a trusted associate of Xi, having been his chief of staff since 2012. At 67 years old, he narrowly avoided the age cut-off to join the PSC.

With his ascension to the PSC, Li is expected to head the National People’s Congress, China’s parliament. Currently, he is the Director of the General Office of the Communist Party of China and Chief of the General Office of the National Security Commission.

Li first met Xi when the two held Party positions in Hebei province, where he was born, in the 1980s. Li later held leadership positions in Heilongjiang and Guizhou provinces, as well as in the city of Xi’an, the capital of Shaanxi province.

Wang Yang

Wang Yang, 62, is the fourth-ranking member of the new PSC. He will reportedly take the position of Chairman of the Chinese People’s Consultative Conference, China’s top political advisory body.

Currently, Wang is China’s Vice Premier. Along with Li Keqiang, he is widely considered one of the most liberal reformers among China’s leadership, and is also connected to former president Hu Jintao.

Wang is credited with being instrumental in the development of Chongqing, where he was Party Secretary from 2005 to 2007. From 2007 to 2012, he was Party Secretary of Guangdong province, which has the highest GDP and largest population of China’s provinces.

Wang was born to a poor family in Anhui province, and is known as a vociferous reader of history books.

Wang Huning

Wang Huning, 62, emerged from the 19th Party Congress ranking fifth on the PSC. Wang has long been considered one of the Party’s top political theorists, and will head ideology, propaganda, and party organization.

He is currently the Director of the Central Policy Research Office, which is responsible for drafting the guiding theories and ideology of the Party.

Wang is widely considered to have been essential in forming the former president Jiang Zemin’s “Three Represents” theory, Hu Jintao’s “Scientific Development” theory, as well as Xi’s “China Dream” and “Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era”.

Wang rose to prominence through a brief but prolific career as an academic at Shanghai’s Fudan University, where he wrote on both foreign and domestic affairs. He is considered a close confidante of Xi, with whom his theory of “neo-authoritarianism” and tough stance on corruption has proved highly influential.

Despite his prominence in Party politics, his candidacy to the PSC was questioned in some corners due to his lack of governing experience.

Wang was born in Shanghai, and became Fudan’s youngest ever professor of law at age 30.

Zhao Leji

Zhao Leji, 60, enters the PSC in the sixth spot. He is poised to take over Wang Qishan’s role as Secretary of the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection, making him China’s anti-corruption czar.

Currently, Zhao is the head of the powerful Organization Department of the Central Committee, which manages personnel and promotions within the Party.

From 2003 to 2007, Zhao was Party Secretary of Qinghai province, where he was born, and from 2007 to 2012 was the Party Secretary of Shaanxi province. Zhao’s connections to Shaanxi province, where is family is originally from, are believed to be how he formed ties with Xi, with whom he is a strong supporter.

Han Zheng

Han Zheng, 63, takes the seventh and final spot on the PSC. He is tipped to take over the role of Executive Vice Premier.

Han has deep ties to Shanghai, where he was born, grew up, and attended university. He was Mayor of Shanghai from 2003 to 2012, and acting Party Secretary of Shanghai from 2006 to 2007. He succeeded Xi as Shanghai’s full time Party Secretary in 2012.

Han was known as a close associate of Jiang Zemin, who also has strong ties to Shanghai. He became acquainted with Xi when the two overlapped in Shanghai, with Han as Mayor and Xi and Party Secretary.


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