Xi Jinping, poised to clinch a third five-year term as China’s leader, will on Sunday (Oct 23) preside over the most dramatic moment of the Communist Party’s twice-a-decade congress and reveal the members of its elite Politburo Standing Committee.
Xi’s break with precedent to rule beyond a decade was set in motion when he abandoned presidential term limits in 2018. His norm-busting as China’s most powerful ruler since Mao Zedong has made it even harder to predict who will join him on the standing committee.
The 69-year-old leader’s grip on power appears undiminished by a sharp economic slowdown, frustration over his zero-COVID policy, and China’s increasing estrangement from the West, exacerbated by his support for Russia’s Vladimir Putin.
The new leadership will be unveiled when Xi, widely expected to be renewed in China’s top post as party general secretary, walks into a room of journalists at Beijing’s Great Hall of the People, followed by the other members of the Politburo Standing Committee (PSC) in descending order of rank.
The lineup – who is in, who is not, and who is revealed to replace Premier Li Keqiang when he retires in March – will give party watchers grist to speculate over just how much Xi has consolidated power by appointing loyalists.
At the same time, some analysts and diplomats say, the makeup of the standing committee and the identity of the premier matter less than they once did because Xi has moved away from a tradition of collective leadership.
“The new PSC line up will tell us whether Xi cares only about personal loyalty or whether he values some diversity of opinion at the top,” said Ben Hillman, director of the Australian Centre on China in the World at Australian National University.
“It is possible that the new PSC will consist entirely of Xi loyalists, which will signify the consolidation of Xi’s power, but pose great risks for China. A group of ‘yes’ men at the top will limit the information available for decision-making.”