BEIJING: The following is a look at the seven men making up the Communist Party of China’s all-powerful Politburo Standing Committee in order of rank.
Three of them are holdovers from the previous body, including General Secretary Xi Jinping, who has received a precedent-breaking third term as party head. The four newcomers are all Xi loyalists, while the exclusion of Premier Li Keqiang and head of the top advisory body Wang Yang are seen as signs that representatives of other factions will no longer be welcome on the top body.
All-Powerful leader Xi Jinping
Xi laid down the conditions for his continuation in power with the elimination of term limits. Even before then, he had sidelined rivals and accumulated ultimate authority by assuming the leadership of working groups operating outside the ministries that oversee everything from national security to economic policy. His third term is being hailed as a return to one-man rule after a period of more collegial decision making.
Xi is what is known as a “princeling,” the son of one of Mao Zedong’s comrades in the founding of the People’s Republic who despite falling out of favor returned to implement important economic reforms. Xi Jinping, meanwhile, worked his way through a series of provincial postings until being appointed vice president and then party leader in 2012, and state president in 2013.
Xi, who has a law degree from Beijing’s prestigious Tsinghua University, has consolidated power through a sweeping anti-corruption campaign, reasserted the role of the state sector in the economy, expanded the military and led ruthless crackdowns on civil rights in Hong Kong and Xinjiang. He is also known for his glamorous wife, People’s Liberation Army vocalist Peng Liyuan, although the two have traveled little together since the onset of the COVID-19 outbreak.
Shanghai chief Li Qiang
Li Qiang has been party secretary of Shanghai, China’s largest city and financial hub, since 2017 and was parachuted into the Politburo Standing Committee, possibly as a future premier. The Shanghai post is one of China’s most important and was previously held by Xi, former President Jiang Zemin and former Premier Zhu Rongji.
Li, 63, is regarded as being close to Xi after serving under him in Li’s native southeastern province of Zhejiang, a center for export-oriented manufacturing and private enterprise. He headed the province’s political and legal affairs department before being made deputy party secretary and holds an MBA from Hong Kong Polytechnic University.
Li’s reputation was dented by a lengthy COVID-19 lockdown of Shanghai earlier this year that confined 25 million people to their homes, severely disrupting the economy and prompting scattered public protests. While district-level officials were punished as a means of placating public anger, Li was not known to have addressed the difficulties of adhering closely to Xi’s hardline “zero-COVID” policy. His elevation to the Politburo Standing Committee appears to indicate that loyalty to Xi trumps public popularity and competence in governance when it comes to political advancement.
Discipline chief Zhao Leji
Since 2017, Zhao Leji has run the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection, the party’s much-feared body for policing corruption and other malfeasance. That has made him a key figure in Xi’s campaign to bring party members inline that has at times been characterized as a vehicle for eliminating opponents and instilling loyalty. He is now in line to head the National People’s Congress, the largely ceremonial legislature that meets in full session just once a year and whose deliberations are mainly carried out behind closed doors by its smaller standing committee.
Zhao, 65, is seen by some analysts as part of Xi’s “Shaanxi Gang” of figures with family ties to the western province of Shaanxi. Before moving to Beijing, Zhao was party secretary for Shaanxi and, before that, for the remote western province of Qinghai on the Tibetan plateau, where he was born and spent his early career.
Zhao, like Xi, is a second-generation party member and unconfirmed accounts say their fathers were friends. The relationship is seen as having aided Xi in his push to eliminate term limits and continue as party general secretary indefinitely.
Political theorist Wang Huning
Longtime party political theorist Wang Huning, 62, has been a member of the Politburo Standing Committee since 2017 and moves up from fifth position, reflecting his status as one of Xi’s most important advisers. The fourth spot usually goes to the head of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, the advisory group to the NPC that also oversees non-Communist groupings, religious organizations and minority groups.
Wang, who has a background in academia, has largely been in charge of party ideology as an advisor to a succession of leaders. Unusual for those at the pinnacle of power, he has no experience as a regional governor, party leader or cabinet minister.
Since 2017, he has served as director of the Central Leading Small Group for Comprehensively Deepening Reform, a relatively obscure body that helps enforce Xi’s policies. He was formerly dean of the prestigious Fudan University law school in Shanghai and a professor of international politics. Wang advocates a strong, centralized Chinese state to resist foreign influence.
Wang is credited by foreign researchers with developing the official ideologies of three Chinese leaders — Jiang Zemin’s “Three Represents,” Hu Jintao’s “Scientific Development Concept” and Xi’s “Socialism with Chinese Characteristics in a New Era.” He is also the author of the highly critical book “America Against America,” written after a 1991 visit to the United States, which points to economic inequality and other American social and political challenges.
Beijing party leader Cai Qi
Cai Qi is another newcomer to the Politburo Standing Committee, a talented politician who has a long-established relationship with Xi. As with Xi, Cai worked in the coastal provinces of Fujian and Zhejiang, arriving in Beijing in 2016 first as mayor before being promoted to the top spot of party secretary the next year.
His time in office has been more varied and challenging than some of his predecessors. He brought the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics in on time and with relatively little disruption and has carried out Xi’s “zero-COVID” strategy without causing the sort of massive upheaval seen in Shanghai.
Cai, 66, is a Fujian native and considered one of the party’s leading intellectuals, having earned a doctorate in political economy from Fujian Normal University, while also proving himself a competent manager.
Xi confidante Ding Xuexiang
As head of the General Office since 2017, Ding Xuexiang holds one of the most important bureaucratic positions in the party, with sweeping control over information and access to officials. That implies that Xi puts a high degree of trust in him and Ding is often among the few officials attending sensitive meetings alongside the general secretary. That has earned him the sobriquets “Xi’s alter ego” and “Xi’s chief of staff.”
Ding, 60, joined the Politburo in 2017 and has held a variety of posts within the party rather than in government administration. Like Wang Huning, he has never been a governor, provincial party secretary or minister.
Li Xi, head of industrial powerhouse Guangdong
Li Xi’s elevation to the Politburo Standing Committee appears to come in recognition of his success in promoting integration between Guangdong, with its technology center of Shenzhen, and international finance hub Hong Kong.
Li, 66, has also been named to succeed Zhao Leji as head of the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection, whose activities Xi is bound to take a close interest in. Li’s father was an architect of Shenzhen’s success, which may have endeared him to Xi despite their having no obvious close working relationship.
Li also has the special distinction of having been party secretary of Yan’an, where the party founded its headquarters at the end of the famed Long March to escape Chiang Kai-shek’s Nationalist forces. The caves carved from the loess hills where Mao Zedong and other party leaders road out World War II have since become a pilgrimage site for party faithful. He later rose to be deputy Shanghai party secretary and then party secretary of the northeastern rust belt province of Liaoning.