"Xi Jinping keeps next generation out of inner leadership”

China’s Communist Party announced its top leadership for the next five years at the first plenary session of the 19thCentral Committee. At the 19th Party Congress, Xi Jinping consolidated his position as the most powerful party and state leader in China’s modern history. At the same time, he stated the ambition to shape China’s rise to a socialist global power. 

Interview with Matthias Stepan, Head of Program Public Policy at the Mercator Institute for China Studies (MERICS):

Xi Jinping used this Party Congress to consolidate his position. What does the composition of the new Politburo tell us about his influence over state and party?

At the conclusion of this Party Congress, the concentration of power in the person of Xi Jinping is only comparable to that of Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping. The composition of the Politburo shows that Xi is not yet willing to pave the way for a transition to the next leadership generation. In a clear break with Party tradition, not a single one of his potential heirs has joined the innermost leadership circle. Only three of the new members of the CCP’s top decision-making body are still in their 50s. But none of them joined the innermost leadership circle, the Politburo Standing Committee. This will fuel speculation that Xi plans to remain in power beyond the next Party Congress in 2022.

What are the most important faces to remember?

Zhao Leji is the youngest member in the Politburo Standing Committee and poised to replace Wang Qishan as the leader of the anti-corruption campaign, Xi’s instrument to enforce Party discipline and loyalty. One of the younger members of the new leadership at age 60, he has the best chances to play a key role in Chinese politics beyond the next Party Congress in 2022.

Li Qiang, a close Xi ally, is one of three newcomers in the Politburo. He could rise to the position of vice premier where he would assume an important role in economic policy-making. As the number 3 in the State Council he would then be a candidate for higher offices after 2022.

At the Party Congress, Xi Jinping presented his vision for China’s future. How will he shape the Party and the country during his second term?

Just like the revolutionary helmsman Mao Zedong or the reformer Deng Xiaoping, Xi stands for a leader who changed the country’s direction. After years of reform and opening, the CCP has reinforced its strict control over China’s economy. Xi Jinping reverts to Marxist theories to underpin his vision of a state-led economy and society. He relies on Leninist principles to secure the Party’s control over all areas of the economy and society.

How does Xi define China’s role as a socialist superpower?

China is the only large socialist nation that has never officially given up this ideology. The political system of the People’s Republic of China weathered the historic transitions in Eastern Europe of the late 1980s and early 1990s as well as the color revolutions in the early 2000s.

In all these years, China’s Communist leadership has never conceded its monopoly on power. But when it came to restructuring the economy, the CCP did apply the lessons of Western-style market economies and engineered China’s rise to the world’s second largest economy. This year, Xi Jinping defended the Western-inspired global economic order and free trade in his speech at the World Economic Forum in Davos.

At the same time, Xi steered China towards a predominantly state-led economic model and it rolled back previous concessions towards a more open society. The Party intervenes into the private lives of China’s citizens to an unprecedented extent, and is in the process of establishing a surveillance state with the help of digital technologies.

Xi is the first Chinese leader in modern history to recommend China’s developmental path openly as a blueprint for other rising countries. Whereas Western democracies appear weakened by political conflicts and a reform backlog, Xi presents China’s political system as a guarantor for growth and stability. Xi confidently affirms China’s willingness and capability to shape global governance and to fill the gap that the recent withdrawal of the United States has left on the world stage.


This interview or excerpts may be quoted with proper attribution. For questions and further information, please contact:

Dörte Ahlrichs, Communications Manager


Tel. +49 30 3440 999-16