Xi gets third term heading the CPC; Premier Li Keqiang retires, to be replaced by Li Qiang

President Xi Jinping, in his capacity as General Secretary of the Communist Party of China (CPC) closed the 20th Congress on October 23 and was reelected at the first session of the new Central Committee a day later. Premier Li Keqiang was not re-elected to the Central Committee and will step down as Premier in March next year. He is likely to be succeeded by the new No 2 on the Standing Committee, Li Qiang, who will step down as Party Secretary of Shanghai and move to the capital.

Xi Jinping's re-election as General Secretary secures him a third term as the country President when the National People's Congress holds its next meeting in March next year, when a new Chinese government will be formed.

The new line-up of the Standing Committee of the Politburo – presented to the domestic and international press in the Great Hall of the People on October 23 – is Xi Jinping, Li Qiang, Zhao Leji, Wang Huning, Cai Qi, Ding Xuexiang and Li Xi. Cai Qi and Li Xi were Party Secretaries of Beijing and Guangdong respectively. Retiring from the Standing Committee are Premier Li Keqiang; National People's Congress (NPC) Chairman Li Zhanshu; Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference Chairman Wang Yang and Executive Vice Premier Han Zheng.

Foreign Minister Wang Yi will succeed Yang Jiechi as the top foreign policy expert on the Politburo, while current Chinese Ambassador to the U.S. Qin Gang is expected to become Foreign Minister in March next year. Vice Premier Liu He, who also acted as top trade negotiator with the U.S. and the EU, will also step down, as his name is not on the Central Committee list. He Lifeng, currently Chairman of the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) is expected to take his place. There is no obvious successor who could take up Xi's top posts in five years' time, which some analysts believe creates uncertainty. For the first time in 25 years there is no woman on the Politburo.

The “seven up, eight down” rule, meaning that those who are 67 years old at the time of the Congress can keep their seats or be promoted and those 68 or older should retire is not written in stone. The prime example is General Secretary Xi Jinping himself, who is 69. Two other exceptions are Zhang Youxia (72), First Vice Chairman of the Central Military Commission (CMC) and Wang Yi (69), State Councilor and Foreign Minister. Not reelected to the Central Committee and to retire next year in March are Minister of Transport Li Xiaopeng (63), son of former Premier Li Peng; Yi Gang (64), Governor of the People's Bank of China (PBOC) and Guo Shuqing (66), Chairman of the China Banking and Insurance Regulatory Commission (CBIRC).

In total, 135 out of 205 Central Committee Members have been replaced. The average age of the full and alternate members of the 20th Central Committee is 57.2 years. Only 33 of them are women and 32 are from ethnic minorities. Over 98% have a university degree and 29 are Members of the Chinese Academies of Science and Engineering. More leaders with a strong science and technology background have been promoted to the upper echelon of the Communist Party as President Xi Jinping seeks to counter pressure from the West. At least six new Politburo members boast qualifications in science and technology fields. Their areas of expertise range from rocket science to nuclear power safety and public health. Xinjiang and Zhejiang Party Secretaries Ma Xingrui and Yang Jiajun were both former Chief Commanders of China’s space program before they entered politics. Shandong Party Secretary Li Ganjie and Beijing Mayor Chen Jining are environment experts. Liaoning Party Secretary Zhang Guoqing has been Chief Executive of China North Industries – China’s biggest defense group, and Fujian Party Secretary Yin Li is a public health expert.

After announcing his new team, Xi expressed confidence that they would keep China’s economy on a steady course. “Our economy’s strong fundamentals will not change, and it will remain on the positive trajectory over the long run,” Xi said. “We’ll be steadfast in deepening reform and opening up across the board, and in pursuing high-quality development, and create more opportunities for the world through our own development. Xi also acknowledged it would not be smooth sailing for the new leadership because there would be “high winds, choppy waters or dangerous storms” ahead. “In the face of new challenges and new tests on the new journey, we must be highly vigilant, always keep the sobriety and prudence of rushing for the exam, and continue to push forward the comprehensive and strict governance of the Party, so that the century-old Party will continue to flourish in its self-reform, and remain the most reliable and strong backbone of the Chinese people,” he said.

Some economic observers praised Xi's work report delivered at the opening of the Congress for its emphasis on boosting the security and resilience of industrial and supply chains. It will help accelerate the nation’s high-quality economic development, which will in turn contribute to global economic recovery, they said. The report stated: “We will raise total factor productivity and make China’s industrial and supply chains more resilient and secure”. Cai Jin, Deputy Director of the China Federation of Logistics and Purchasing (CFLP), said China is the world’s largest manufacturing country and boasts a vast domestic market. Cai said China faces challenges in supply chains amid the Covid-19 pandemic, but the nation has shown strong innovative capabilities in handling them. “As more efforts are made to secure industrial and supply chains, China’s sprawling industries will see better development and have a sounder foundation,” Cai added.

It has been revealed that Xi Jinping only delivered a summary of the work report of the Central Committee on the opening day of the Congress. The full report is 72 pages long. The unabridged work report, which was released soon after Xi’s speech, went into much greater detail about the challenges ahead for the country and the Party, and singled out shortcomings in the Party's performance. It mentioned that some shocking cases of corruption were discovered. It also raised questions about the Party’s efforts on environmental protection and to ensure people’s well-being. The systems for safeguarding national security were inadequate and the Party’s capacity to respond to various risks, including in the fields of national defense and the military, was insufficient.

Over the past decade, when Xi was China's top leader, China’s GDP more than doubled from CNY54 trillion to CNY114 trillion last year, with its share of the world’s economy rising by 7.2 percentage points to 18.5%.

This overview is based on reports by the China Daily, Shanghai Daily, Global Times and South China Morning Post.