Xi Jinping secures 3rd term as China's Communist Party leader, further concentrating power

The new Politburo Standing Committee of China's Communist Party (from left): Li Xi, Cai Qi, Zhao Leji, Xi Jinping, Li Qiang, Wang Huning and Ding Xuexiang on Oct. 23 in Beijing. Photo: Lintao Zhang/Getty Images

Chinese President Xi Jinping secured an unusual third term as leader of the Chinese Communist Party, the country's most powerful position, after a weeklong Party congress session that ended on Sunday, according to Chinese state media Xinhua News Agency.

Why it matters: With Xi as China's unchallenged leader for another five-year term, Beijing is likely to continue its current trajectory of confrontation with the West.

  • Xi, 69, has surpassed the informal retirement age of 68 and could be in a position for life-long rule.
  • His selection paves the way for him to again be named the country's president at the annual legislative session in March.

Details: During the meeting, some key Communist party leaders retired from the powerful seven-member Politburo standing committeeand several of Xi's closest allies and proteges were instated.

  • Premier Li Keqiang — China’s second-highest ranking leader — and Wang Yang both retired, even though they were eligible for another five-year term. Li and Wang were not viewed as being close Xi allies.
  • Shanghai party secretary Li Qiang was appointed to the standing committee and is considered a front-runner to be named premier, the country's second-highest position, at a meeting next March. Li was in charge of Shanghai during its heavily criticized lockdown earlier this year, making his ongoing position heavily dependent on Xi's support.
  • The full membership roster of the new standing committee is Xi Jinping, Li Qiang, Zhao Leji, Wang Huning, Cai Qi, Ding Xuexiang and Li Xi.
  • The Party constitution was also amended to enshrine Xi as the "core" leader.

The big picture: Xi's third term signals an end to collective leadership and a return to strongman rule.

  • A model of elite power-sharing was adopted in the 1980s after the death of Chinese dictator Mao Zedong, to help prevent the rise of another all-powerful leader.
  • Xi has slowly chipped away at collective leadership by sidelining rival factions and forcing through an end to presidential term limits in 2018. His selection for a third term as party general secretary marks the culmination of that ten-year process.

Of note: Former Chinese President Hu Jintao was unexpectedly escorted out of the closing ceremony of the Communist Party Congress on Saturday.

  • No explanation was initially given for the incident that took place in front of international media during a highly choreographed event, sparking speculation that Xi might be choosing to publicly humiliate Hu to demonstrate his own unbounded power.
  • Chinese state media later said the former leader was not feeling well.

What to watch: The new leadership reinforces the leading role ideology has taken in Xi's China and sidelines elite-level dissent.

  • Xi is likely to have a freer hand to make controversial decisions in both domestic and foreign policy, such as further strengthening state control over the economy or taking assertive measures towards Taiwan.

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