As expected, Xi was given a renewed mandate following the first meeting Wednesday of the new Central Committee that was elected at the party’s twice-a-decade national congress.
The party elevated Xi’s status by inserting his name and dogma into the party’s constitution alongside past leaders Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping, cementing his status as the country’s most powerful leader in decades.
That move effectively makes any act of opposing him tantamount to an attack on the party itself, largely insulating him from competition among the party’s rival factions.
Xi also continues to sit atop the seven-member Politburo Standing Committee, five of whose members were newly appointed on Wednesday.
The only other returning member was Premier Li Keqiang, the party’s second-ranking official primarily responsible for overseeing the economy and leading the Cabinet. Li’s authority was widely viewed as having been undercut by Xi’s accumulation of power over all sectors of government, although his continuing presence on the committee appears to speak to the high-regard in which he is held within the party.
The makeup of the committee reflects Xi’s efforts to foster party unity by striking a balance between different interest groups in the 89-million member organization as he seeks to better position a reinvigorated party to dominate China’s affairs at home and abroad.
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They will assume responsibility for running the rubber-stamp legislature, the National People’s Congress and its advisory body, the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, and assume a range of portfolios, including those responsible for propaganda, party discipline, ethnic and Taiwan affairs and science and technology.
The other members are, in order of seniority: Li Zhanshu, director of the party’s General Office who serves as Xi’s chief of staff; Vice Premier Wang Yang; Wang Huning, director of the party’s Central Policy Research Office; Zhao Leji, head of the Central Organization Department responsible for job assignments; and Shanghai party leader Han Zheng, a veteran manager of the country’s financial hub.
Zhao is expected to head the much-feared corruption watchdog body, the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection.
Xi has made his wide-ranging anti-corruption campaign the hallmark of his first five years in office. While popular among ordinary Chinese, it is seen as part of a drive to purge his rivals and political opponents and boost supervision over the party at all levels.
Alongside the campaign, Xi has overseen one of the harshest crackdowns on civil society aimed at squelching dissent and activism among lawyers and rights advocates.
The new leaders will face challenges that include reining burgeoning levels of debt seen as the biggest threat to economic stability and managing trade tensions with Washington and Europe over China’s excess production of steel and other goods.
They will also have to tackle the risk of war over neighboring ally North Korea’s nuclear program, manage the crucial relationship with the U.S. and navigate delicate ties with Southeast Asian nations wary of Beijing’s expansion in the disputed South China Sea.
Xi has outlined his vision of strengthening the party’s role in Chinese life and shepherding China’s rise to prominence at a time when the United States and others in the West are seen to be in retreat.
Xi, the son of a Communist elder, has described his political ideology as central to setting China on the path to becoming a “great modern socialist country” by midcentury. This vision has at its core a ruling party that serves as the vanguard for everything from defending national security to providing moral guidance to ordinary Chinese.