What to expect from Xi Jinping’s Communist Party congress power play

by Nectar Gan / 7 August 2017/ SCMP

When Xi Jinping took the helm of China’s ruling Communist Party in late 2012 he had few trusted allies by his side or loyal aides at his command.

The party’s Central Committee – its senior leadership – was stuffed with cadres handpicked by the previous leadership or the one before that, with many members occupying important jobs in the party and the government.

Five years on, with another leadership shake-up just months away, that situation is set to change.

Through rounds of reshuffles and a relentless war on corruption that has felled more than 200 senior officials, Xi has managed to place loyalists or associates of close allies in key positions in central and provincial government and powerful party departments. Many are now poised to be elevated to the Central Committee and some to the Politburo.

“The upcoming 19th party congress will see an all-out rise of Xi’s men,” said Chen Daoyin, an associate professor at Shanghai University of Political Science and Law. “The anti-corruption campaign has offered him many vacant positions to plant his trusted followers, in addition to the vacancies left by retiring officials.”

The latest to fall was Sun Zhengcai, once considered a possible next-generation leader, who was replaced by Xi protégé Chen Miner as party chief of Chongqing last month. Sun is under investigation by the party’s graft watchdog, the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection (CCDI), for “serious violations of party discipline”, a euphemism for corruption and is likely to lose his Politburo seat. When he does, Chen Miner, who worked under Xi in Zhejiang, is well-positioned to take it.

Since the start of last year, eight ministries and four organisations directly under the State Council, China’s cabinet, have been given new chiefs, while the CCDI and four departments directly under the Central Committee received at least one new deputy head.

At the local level, 23 of mainland China’s 31 provincial-level regions have new party chiefs and 24 have new governors or mayors.

Most of the 67 positions are likely to come with tickets to Central Committee membership.

Of those promoted, 15 had worked with Xi during his time in Fujian, Zhejiang, Shanghai or the Central Party School, while another 14 had worked for his close allies.

The two with the highest profiles are Chen Miner and long-time Xi aide Cai Qi, who was promoted to Beijing party secretary in May, just seven months after being named the capital’s mayor. Cai worked under Xi for nearly 17 years, since his time in Fujian. Both are almost certain to join the Politburo, given the high offices they now hold, and some analysts say Chen Miner even has a shot at making it onto the Politburo Standing Committee, the party’s innermost decision-making body.

Other cadres who previously worked under Xi have now taken up leadership positions in provinces across China, including financial hub Shanghai, eastern economic powerhouse Jiangsu, coal-rich Shanxi, the central provinces of Jiangxi and Hunan, Yunnan in the southwest and the southern island of Hainan.

Provincial leadership experience is highly valued within the party and is a common stepping stone to central party leadership. Cheng Li, director of the John L. Thornton China Centre at the Brookings Institution, reckons 76 per cent of the current Politburo’s 25 members have served as provincial chiefs.

Xi followed a similar path and led three provinces before heading to Beijing as the country’s leader-in-waiting in 2007.

Professor Steve Tsang, director of the SOAS China Institute in London, said Xi’s increasing control of key provincial level leadership positions could help in the implementation of reform policies. Read more…

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