Strong man rule: Xi Jinping keeps next generation out of inner leadership

The composition of China’s new Politburo shows a strong concentration of power around the person of Xi Jinping who appears unwilling 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.

This will fuel speculation that Xi plans to remain in power beyond the next Party Congress in 2022.

The new Politburo has 25 members, its top decision-making body, the Standing Committee, has 7. The number of women in the new Politburo has shrunk from 2 to 1.

Next to Xi Jinping and Prime Minister Li Keqiang, the new Standing Committee consists of the following members (listed according to their rank in the Party hierarchy):

Li Zhanshu, 67, has served as Xi Jinping’s chief of staff since 2012. Prior to his transfer to Beijing, he had gained a reputation as an effective administrator in poverty-stricken regions. If he will be nominated as chairman of the National People’s Congress in March 2018, this would strengthen the Party’s influence over China’s top legislative organ.

Wang Yang, 62, served as vice-premier of the State Council since 2013. He was in charge Xi’s project to reduce poverty by 2020 and the economy. Prior to his transfer to the capital, he acted as Party Secretary in the Guangdong where he enjoyed high popularity and was known as an economic reformer. It is expected that he will become chairman of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, a body with mere advisory functions.

Wang Huning, 62, has a reputation as the CCP’s top thinker. After he left academia in the late 1990s, he served as an advisor to three former presidents (Jiang Zemin, Hu Jintao und Xi Jinping). He is said to be the key architect of Jiang Zemin’s “Three Represents,” Hu Jintao’s “Scientific outlook on Development” and of Xi’s “China Dream.” In his new role as the secretary of the Secretariat of the Central Committee he will focus on ideology and propaganda work.

Zhao Leji, 60, is the new head of the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection. As such, he replaces Wang Qishan as the leader of the anti-corruption campaign, Xi’s instrument to enforce Party discipline and loyalty. As the youngest member of the Standing Committee, he has the best chances to play a key role in Chinese politics beyond the next Party Congress in 2022.

Han Zheng, 63, is the party secretary of Shanghai. He succeeded Xi Jinping in this position. He proved himself as effective administrator and reformer. From March 2018 onwards, he might use his experience and skills as Li Keqiang’s deputy in the State Council.

MERICS analysis: 

“19th CCP Party Congress: "Xi Jinping keeps next generation out of inner leadership.” Interview with Matthias Stepan