Xi’s possible successors could rise during party congress

Yomiuri Shimbun file photo
The Great Hall of the People in Beijing where the Chinese Communist Party’s National Congress will be held starting Oct. 16.

BEIJING — Who will be chosen to comprise China’s Politburo Standing Committee with President Xi Jinping? The decisions will be made during the Chinese Communist Party’s National Congress, scheduled to open Oct. 16.

There is growing speculation that two party members will be promoted to China’s supreme leadership body, and Xi’s possible successor could be among them.

The party congress is held every five years so if Xi, now 69, intends to retire at the 2027 congress after heading an unprecedented third administration, he should be promoting his successor to the Politburo Standing Committee this time.

Of the current seven Politburo Standing Committee members, Xi is not subject to the unofficial retirement age of 68. According to Hong Kong’s Sing Tao Daily, two members will retire: Li Zhanshu, 72, the chairman of the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress, and Vice Premier Han Zheng, 68.

A source close to the party said possible new members of the Politburo Standing Committee appear to be Ding Xuexiang, 60, director of the Central Committee’s General Office, and Vice Premier Hu Chunhua, 59. Both are among the 25 Politburo members, which include the seven from the standing committee.

When Xi was the party’s strongman in Shanghai, Ding served under him and continues to accompany the president as a secretary when Xi visits local areas or foreign countries. Although Ding has never been a top local official, he has Xi’s trust, which is an advantage.

At the previous party congress in 2017, Ding jumped from being an alternate member of the Central Committee to being a member of the Politburo, skipping being a full member of the Central Committee.

As for Hu, known for his practical abilities, he rose from the Chinese Communist Youth League, in the same way as 67-year-old Premier Li Keqiang, who is said to be distant with Xi. For the previous party congress, Hu was said to have sent a letter to Xi, who has been wary of the Communist Youth League, declining a promotion in an attempt to ease Xi’s distrust, according to a media-related source.

Among the other possible candidates are Chongqing Party Secretary Chen Min’er, 62, who is a close associate of Xi, and Shanghai Party Secretary Li Qiang, 63.

The higher-ranking new member of the Politburo Standing Committee could potentially succeed Xi. In 2007, Xi became a member of the Politburo Standing Committee and was ranked sixth, while Li Keqiang was seventh. In 2012, Xi kept his position above Li Keqiang when he took the top post.

If Xi and the other incumbent Politburo Standing Committee members retire in 2027, Ding and Hu will be among those who would be of the right age to take over from Xi. However, some observers strongly believe that Xi might not intend to retire until 2032.

Hong Kong daily Ming Pao said Xi’s successor will then likely be someone born in 1965 or after, younger than Ding, Hu and others named above. If that younger generation is chosen to join the Politburo at this party congress, there will be speculation about them possibly being promoted to the Politburo Standing Committee in 2027 and groomed to take over from Xi in 2032.

The Yomiuri Shimbun