Published 10/03/2023 17:14 | Edited 3/13/2023 12:37 PM
Chinese leader Xi Jinping won an unprecedented third term as president on Friday and was also appointed commander of the two million-strong Chinese People’s Liberation Army. Nearly 3,000 members of China’s parliament, the National People’s Congress (NPC), unanimously voted for Xi, 69, to be president.
Considered the most powerful Chinese leader since Mao Zedong – who founded the People’s Republic of China in 1949 – Xi already faces several challenges as he begins his new five-year term.
Six other officials serving under Xi on the Communist Party’s all-powerful Politburo Standing Committee are taking on new posts. All are party veterans with close personal and professional ties to Xi.
China’s growth has slowed since the pandemic and is likely to be a theme of Xi’s next five years. The world’s second-largest economy expanded just 3% last year, missing its target of around 5.5% in the face of a draconian Covid-zero policy and a growing crisis in the property market.
Beijing has set a growth target of “around five percent” for 2023, one of the lowest in decades. A demographic crisis is also worrying, as the country registers its first population decline in six decades.
With the United States pledging to prioritize maintaining “an enduring competitive advantage” against Beijing as the two countries battle for high-tech dominance, China could find itself under increasing international pressure as growth slows at home.
The NPC also approved a comprehensive plan to reform institutions under the State Council, including the formation of a financial regulatory body and a national data agency and an overhaul of its science and technology ministry.
The reform is seen as a further step by Xi in strengthening the Communist Party’s control over key areas of policy-making.
Voltage in USA
Relations between Beijing and Washington have deteriorated in recent years, with both sides fighting over everything from trade to human rights, China’s growing assertiveness in the Asia-Pacific and the origins of the Covid-19 pandemic. The proximity between Beijing and Moscow has also been criticized by the Americans, amid the war in Ukraine.
The US recently shot down a Chinese balloon – allegedly conducting surveillance over US mainland. If this is mere strained American rhetoric, it seriously strains ties with Beijing.
Beijing denies the balloon was involved in surveillance and Chinese diplomats have gone on the offensive with anti-US criticism: On Friday, the foreign ministry accused the US military of “looting in Syria” and the foreign minister , Qin Gang, warned this week of “conflict and confrontation” with “potentially catastrophic consequences” if Washington does not turn from its tortuous path with China.
Xi also issued a rare direct rebuke to Washington, accusing “US-led western countries” of trying to thwart China’s rise.
China said on Sunday its military budget will increase this year at the fastest pace in four years.
Taiwan is now a sticking point between Washington and Beijing, with military planners on both sides weighing whether Xi can fulfill his stated ambition to take the self-ruled island and bring it back under Chinese control.
Chinese military activity around Taiwan has intensified since a visit to Taipei last year by then-U.S. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, which infuriated Beijing.
Taiwan plays an important role in global supply chains, as the island is a major supplier of semiconductors – an essential component of almost all modern electronics.
Li Qiang, 63, is considered Xi’s closest official. He is widely expected to take over as prime minister, nominally in charge of the cabinet and caretaker of the economy. Li is best known for imposing the “zero-covid” lockdown on Shanghai last spring as party chief of China’s financial center, proving his loyalty to Xi in the face of local protests.
Remnant of the former Politburo Standing Committee, Zhao Leji, 66, has won Xi’s trust as head of the party’s anti-corruption body, the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection. He was appointed head of the National People’s Congress on Friday.
As vice-president, he was elected Han Zhengalso a member of the Politburo Standing Committee, a body all of whose members have ties to Xi and whom he can count on to advance agendas such as party discipline and economic management.
Another returnee from the previous standing committee, Wang Huning He has an academic background, having been a professor of international politics at Fudan University in Shanghai and a senior adviser to two of Xi’s predecessors. Unusually for a senior official, Wang, 67, has never held a local or central government post. He is known for writing books critical of international geopolitics.
As a capital leader since 2017, Cai Qi oversaw the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics amid the COVID-19 pandemic, which was celebrated by the party as a victory. Cai, 67, has also kept Covid cases relatively low in Beijing without enacting the harsh measures seen in Shanghai and elsewhere.
As director of the party’s General Office since 2017, Ding Xuexiang effectively served as Xi’s chief of staff, especially present at state visits and meetings with foreign leaders. Like Wang, Ding, just 60, has never held a government post, but Ding’s career took off after he was named Xi’s secretary during his brief tenure as party chief in Shanghai.
Prior to his appointment to the standing committee, Li Xi, 66, headed Guangdong province, one of China’s wealthiest regions and the base of its vast manufacturing sector. He previously served as party secretary at Mao Zedong’s famous Yan’an Revolutionary Base and became a pioneer in what is known as “red tourism”, promoting sites hallowed in the party’s history before its seizure of power in 1949.