Xi appoints associates to top ranks, eliminates nearly all non-loyalists

BEIJING — China’s leader Xi Jinping has placed priority on loyalty rather than ability or experience by promoting close aides and associates to the top of the Chinese Communist Party.

Xi’s third term as the party’s general secretary began Sunday with a government of “close confidants,” meaning there a few remaining brakes on his rule available within the CCP.

Senior officials who are not close to Xi have been removed from key posts, replaced by these confidants who have had their policies and ability questioned.

Just after noon Sunday at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, Xi appeared in a conference room packed with about 400 reporters. He was followed into the room by the six other members of the Politburo Standing Committee, the CCP’s top ruling body. This was the first time the personnel arrangements were revealed.

Reporters were surprised to see a couple of the faces who followed Xi as the 69-year-old continued to wave his hand at the crowd. There was Li Qiang, Xi’s close aide and secretary who is the party’s chief in Shanghai, following on Xi’s heels as the new No. 2. Then there was the towering presence of Cai Qi, the party’s head in Beijing, who Hong Kong media reported as having “little hope of being promoted” to the Standing Committee.

The Yomiui Shimbun

After being introduced by Xi, Li, 63, and Cai, 66, bowed their heads and held their stoic expressions.

As he ranks second only to Xi, Li will likely be appointed as premier. He was criticized for his handling of the COVID-19 lockdown of Shanghai this spring that threw the metropolis into chaos. A video of Li being yelled at by residents went viral.

Cai, who will likely be in charge of CCP propaganda and ideology, has drawn criticism from Beijing residents for his crackdowns on illegal construction on the capital’s outskirts that included evicting many people.

It appears that Xi pushed through the appointments of both men, despite disputes within the party.

What came as a further shock was unexpected demotion of Vice Premier Hu Chunhua, 59. There were rumors that he would be promoted to the Standing Committee, but instead he has been removed from the Politburo entirely. Hu is a close aide of Premier Li Keqiang, who is not close to Xi.

This marks Xi’s continued elimination of forces associated with the Communist Youth League of China, which Hu came from and has been the political base for Li Keqiang, 67, and former Chinese President Hu Jintao, 79.

State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi, 69, one of the faces of foreign diplomacy for Xi, was promoted to the Politburo.

These personnel decisions are symbolic of the snubbing of party cadres who are not loyal to Xi. Just on Saturday, the retirements from the Central Committee of Politburo Standing Committee members Li Keqiang and Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference Chairman Wang Yang, 67, came to light.

According to a source connected to the CCP, the word is that the demotions or retirements “had to do with differences on issues including the management of the economy.”

Since 2007, the number of Politburo members had been 25, but there are now 24. Speculation is spreading that something unusual happened before the final decision on leadership appointments.

The near elimination of non-Xi loyalists from the top leadership could leave Xi’s growing confrontation against the United States and other democratic camps unchecked.

Reflecting on the crackdown on corruption, which is his signature policy, Xi said at a meeting of delegates to the congress on Oct. 17, “We must keep sounding the bugle and never rest, not even for a minute, in our fight against corruption.”

The remark was taken by Hong Kong media as “a hard-line statement, conscious of voices of opposition” to the concentration of authority and policy lines in Xi’s hands alone.