Meet the Xi Jinping allies in line to become Chinese leader’s new chief of staff

Ding Xuexiang or Li Qiang could head Communist Party’s low-key but powerful General Office

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 24 October, 2017, 3:36pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 24 October, 2017, 3:36pm

The top decision-making bodies of China’s Communist Party are expected to be dominated by allies of party chief Xi Jinping for the next five years, with the line-up to be revealed on Wednesday.

But beneath those leadership roles, Xi allies and proteges are also poised to control the party’s General Office, which serves as its nerve centre, and the Central Secretariat, which deals with the day-to-day running of the party Politburo and its Standing Committee.

Ding Xuexiang, a trusted Xi aide, is widely tipped to become head of the party Central Committee’s General Office, which would make him Xi’s new chief of staff.

Ding, now the General Office’s top-ranked deputy head, has extensive experience in assisting Xi.

The 55-year-old was Xi’s secretary during the half year he spent as Shanghai party boss in 2007 and was promoted to a deputy head of the General Office six months after Xi came to power in November 2012. In July 2013, two months after that promotion, Ding got a new title as director of Xi’s personal office and he has since accompanied Xi on many of his foreign and domestic trips.

Another possible candidate is Li Qiang, the party boss of Jiangsu province, who served as Xi’s aide during his years in Zhejiang province in the mid-2000s.

The General Office handles paperwork, logistics, health care and security for top leaders, but its importance extends far beyond its seemingly administrative role.

The office is the “nerve centre of the party where all information – from the leadership above and the massive bureaucracy below – converges”, said Professor Wang Zhengxu, a political scientist at Fudan University in Shanghai.

For a piece of information to reach the top leaders, it has to first pass through the General Office. And once the leadership has reached a decision on a particular case or policy, the General Office is then responsible for disseminating it to the departments charged with implementing it.

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Even more importantly, the General Office commands several thousand elite troops in a force known as the Central Security Bureau who are dedicated to protecting the top leaders and their families.

“If somethings goes wrong within the General Office, than the safety of the whole Zhongnanhai compound is at risk,” said Shanghai-based political commentator Chen Daoyin, referring to the closely guarded leadership headquarters next to the Forbidden City in Beijing.

At the General Office, Ding was deputy to Li Zhanshu, a close ally and old friend of Xi. Li is tipped to become a member of the party’s supreme Politburo Standing Committee on Wednesday and become head of the National People’s Congress, China’s legislature, in March.

Li has given the General Office a complete shake-up since becoming its head five years ago.

The General Office used to be the power base of the disgraced Ling Jihua, the former top aide to previous party chief Hu Jintao. Ling is now serving a life sentence for corruption and illegally obtaining state secrets.

Ling worked in the General Office for 17 years, the last five of those as its chief. In a speech last year, Li said Ling had left behind a power centre that had attempted to resist the party’s anti-corruption investigation into the office. At least eight senior cadres from the office have been removed from their posts in the past five years.

Chen said Ding was a suitable choice.

“Ding must have taken an important part in Li’s overhaul of the office and is familiar with how things work there,” he said. “Plus he has Xi’s full trust.”

As the head of the General Office, Ding would also have a seat on the Central Secretariat.

“The Central Secretariat is important because it acts as a coordinator among the hierarchies of the party, the State Council (China’s cabinet) and the military,” Wang said.

The Central Secretariat ranks a rung below the Politburo, but some of its secretaries can wield more real power than a Politburo member who holds a mainly ceremonial role such as the vice-presidency.

It is likely to be headed by communist ideologist Wang Huning, who has been tipped to succeed propaganda and ideology tsar Liu Yunshan in the Politburo Standing Committee.

Its other members include the chiefs of the party’s central propaganda and personnel arms. Both positions are likely to be filled by Xi allies who are now their executive vice-ministers. Huang Kunming, the deputy propaganda tsar, worked with Xi in both Fujian and Zhejiang provinces; while the party Organisation Department’s Chen Xi was Xi’s roommate at Tsinghua University in Beijing.