Xi Jinping named to third term as China’s leader, cementing his dominance

President Xi Jinping waves and stands next to a Chinese flag
Chinese President Xi Jinping at an event in Beijing’s Great Hall of the People on Sunday.
(Ng Han Guan / Associated Press)

President Xi Jinping, China’s most powerful leader in decades, increased his dominance when he was named Sunday to a third term as head of the ruling Communist Party in a break with tradition and promoted allies who support his vision of tighter control over society and the struggling economy.

Xi, who took power in 2012, was awarded another five-year term as general secretary, discarding a party custom under which his predecessor left after 10 years. The 69-year-old leader is expected by some to try to stay in power for life.

On Saturday, Xi’s predecessor, 79-year-old Hu Jintao, abruptly left a meeting of the party Central Committee with an aide holding his arm. That prompted questions about whether Xi was flexing his powers by expelling other leaders. The official Xinhua News Agency later reported Hu was in poor health and needed to rest.


The party also named a seven-member Standing Committee, its inner circle of power, dominated by Xi allies after Premier Li Keqiang, the No. 2 leader and an advocate of market-style reform and private enterprise, was dropped from the leadership Saturday. That was despite Li being a year younger than the party’s informal retirement age of 68.

Xi and other Standing Committee members appeared for the first time as a group before reporters Sunday in the Great Hall of the People, the seat of China’s ceremonial legislature in central Beijing.

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Xi announced Li Qiang, a former Shanghai party secretary who is no relation to Li Keqiang, was the No. 2 member; and Zhao Leji, a member of the previous committee, was promoted to No. 3. The No. 2 committee member since the 1990s has become premier, and the No. 3 heads the legislature. Those posts are to be assigned when the legislature meets next year.

Leadership changes were announced as the party wrapped up a twice-a-decade congress that was closely watched for signs of initiatives to reverse an economic slump or changes in a severe “zero-COVID” strategy that has shut down cities and disrupted business. Officials disappointed investors and the Chinese public by announcing no changes.

The lineup appeared to reflect what some commentators called “Maximum Xi,” valuing loyalty over ability. Some new leaders lack national-level experience as vice premier or Cabinet minister that typically is seen as a requirement for the post.

Li Qiang’s promotion appeared to support that analysis because it puts him in line to be premier with no background in national government. He is seen as close to Xi, as the two worked together in Zhejiang province in the southeast in the early 2000s.


Li Keqiang was sidelined over the last decade by Xi, who put himself in charge of policymaking bodies, and he was excluded Saturday from the list of the party’s new 205-member Central Committee, from which the Standing Committee is picked.

Another leader who left the Standing Committee was Wang Yang, a reform advocate suggested by some as a possible premier. Wang, 67, is below retirement age.

Other new Standing Committee members include Cai Qi, the Beijing party secretary, and Ding Xuexiang, a career party manager who is regarded as Xi’s “alter ego,” or chief of staff. Wang Huning, the party’s chief of ideology, stayed on the committee. The No. 7 member is Li Xi, the party secretary since 2017 of Guangdong province in the southeast, the center of China’s export-oriented manufacturing industry.

None of the members is a woman or ethnic minority. The Central Committee includes 11 women, or about 5% of the total.

Party plans call for creating a prosperous society by midcentury and restoring China to its historical role as a political, economic and cultural leader.

Chinese President Xi Jinping says clean energy must prove reliable before fossil-based electricity is dumped.

Those ambitions face challenges from security-related curbs on access to Western technology, an aging workforce and tension with Washington, Europe and Asian neighbors over trade, security, human rights and territorial disputes.

Xi has called for the “great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation” and a revival of the party’s “original mission” as a social, economic and culture leader, in a throwback to what he sees as a golden age after it took power in 1949.

During the congress, Xi called for faster military development, more technology self-reliance and defense of China’s interests abroad, which raises the likelihood of further conflict.

The party has tightened control over entrepreneurs, prompting warnings that rolling back market-oriented reforms will weigh on economic growth that sank to 2.2% in the first half of this year, less than half the official 5.5% target.

Under a revived 1950s propaganda slogan, “common prosperity,” Xi is pressing entrepreneurs to help narrow China’s wealth gap by raising wages and paying for rural job creation and other initiatives.

Xi, in a report to the congress, called last week for “regulating the mechanism of wealth accumulation,” suggesting entrepreneurs might face still more political pressure, but gave no details.

“I would worry if I were a very wealthy individual in China,” said economist Alicia Garcia Herrero of Natixis.

In his report, Xi stressed the importance of national security and control over China’s supplies of food, energy and industrial goods.

Xi said the party would build “self-reliance and strength” in technology. He gave no indication of possible changes in policies that prompted then-President Trump to launch a tariff war with Beijing in 2018 over its technology ambitions.

An “important guideline” from the congress is the “doubling down on the state’s role and the greater focus on national security,” Natixis’ Garcia Herrero and Gary Ng said in a report.

The party has poured money into nurturing Chinese creators of renewable energy, electric car, computer chip, aerospace and other technologies. Other governments complain Beijing improperly subsidizes and shields its suppliers from competition.

President Biden has kept punitive tariffs on Chinese goods and this month increased restrictions on China’s access to U.S. chip technology.

The party has tightened control over private sector leaders including e-commerce giant Alibaba Group by launching anti-monopoly and data security crackdowns. Under political pressure, they are diverting billions of dollars into chip development and other party initiatives. Their share prices on foreign exchanges have plunged due to uncertainty about their future.

The party will “step up its industrial policy” to close the “wide gap” between what Chinese tech suppliers can make and what is needed by smartphone, computer and other manufacturers, said Garcia Herrero and Ng.

Xi gave no indication Beijing will change its COVID-19 strategy despite public frustration with repeated city closures, which have triggered protests in Shanghai and elsewhere.

Xi’s priorities of security and self-sufficiency will “drag on China’s productivity growth,” said Julian Evans-Pritchard, Sheana Yue and Mark Williams of Capital Economics in a report. “His determination to stay in power makes a course correction unlikely.”

The central bank governor, Yi Gang, and bank regulator, Guo Shuqing, also were missing from Saturday’s Central Committee list, indicating they will retire next year, as expected.

Xi suspended retirement rules to keep Gen. Zhang Youxia, 72, on the Central Committee. That allows Zhang, a veteran of China’s 1979 war with Vietnam, to stay as Xi’s deputy chairman on the commission that controls the party’s military wing, the People’s Liberation Army.

The party elite agreed in the 1990s to limit the general secretary to two five-year terms in hopes of avoiding a repeat of power struggles in previous decades. That leader also becomes chairman of the military commission and takes the ceremonial title of president.

Xi has directed an anti-corruption crackdown that snared thousands of officials including a retired Standing Committee member and deputy Cabinet ministers. That broke up party factions and weakened potential challengers.

Xi is on track to become the first leader in a generation to pick his own successor but has yet to indicate possible candidates or when he might step down. Hu and his predecessor, Jiang Zemin, both were picked in the 1980s by then-supreme leader Deng Xiaoping.

Xi had the ruling party remove the two-term limit for president from China’s Constitution in 2018. Chinese officials said the change would allow Xi to stay if needed to complete reforms.

Ahead of the congress, banners criticizing Xi and “zero COVID” were hung from an elevated roadway over a major Beijing thoroughfare in a rare protest. Photos of the event were deleted from social media. The popular WeChat messaging app shut down accounts that forwarded them.

Xi’s government also faces criticism over mass detentions and other abuses against mostly Muslim ethnic groups and the jailing of government critics.