China's leadership reshuffle 2017
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China's new Politburo Standing Committee members in the Great Hall of the People in Beijing. Photo: Xinhua

UpdateChina’s new leadership team unveiled: Zhao Leji named as anti-graft chief while Xi Jinping elevates trusted deputy to top military role

The make-up of the Politburo Standing Committee, the country’s supreme political body, has been revealed. Five new faces will back up the president as he looks to advance his political agenda

China’s new leadership lineup has been revealed. The members of the Politburo Standing Committee are, in order of seniority, President Xi Jinping, Premier Li Keqiang, Li Zhanshu, Wang Yang, Wang Huning, Zhao Leji and Han Zheng.

The unveiling of the new lineup marks the climax of the twice-a-decade leadership reshuffle after months-long intense horse trading and power struggles in the lead-up to the 19th party congress.

The new lineup has essentially confirmed previous exclusive reports by the South China Morning Post.

Li Zhanshu, 67, Xi’s chief of staff, looks set to take over the head of China’s National People’s Congress while vice-premier Wang Yang, 62, is expected to become chairman of the top political advisory body, the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference.

President Xi Jinping announces the members of Chinese Communist Party's Politburo Standing Committee at the People's Hall of China in Beijing. Photo: SCMP

Wang Huning, 62, the top party theorist and director of the Central Policy Research Office, will be in charge of ideology, propaganda and party organisation.

Zhao Leji, 60, head of the organisation department and the party’s personnel chief, will replace Wang Qishan to become the new anti-graft tsar, while Han Zheng, 63, the Shanghai party chief, will become the executive vice-premier.

The leadership of the powerful Central Military Commission, the body that oversees the military, was also unveiled on Wednesday. General Zhang Youxia, a former director of the commission’s equipment development department and a trusted ally of Xi, was named as the new second vice-chairman.

The current second vice-chairman Xu Qiliang was elevated to replace Fan Changlong as the first chairman. The 70-year-old Fan will retire.

General Li Zuocheng, 64, a veteran of the 1979 war with Vietnam, will join the commission.

The full line-up of the new Standing Committee is:

The remaining members of the new Politburo are:

  • Ding Xuexiang
  • Wang Chen
  • Liu He
  • Xu Qiliang (Central Military Commission Vice-chairman)
  • Sun Chunlan
  • Li Xi
  • Li Qiang
  • Hu Chunhua
  • Li Hongzhong
  • Yang Jiechi
  • Yang Xiaodu
  • Zhang Youxia (Central Military Commission Vice-chairman)
  • Chen Xi
  • Chen Quanguo
  • Chen Miner
  • Guo Shengkun
  • Huang Kunming
  • Cai Qi

The list of new faces underscores Xi’s desire for continuity and consensus-building, but it also prepares the ground for greater changes in the future.

Ahead of the official announcement, the Post exclusively revealed the likely line-up of the committee.

Xi introduced the other six standing committee members at a press conference, which was broadcast live on state television.

It was his first televised address after being confirmed as China’s most powerful leader in decades when his name was added to the party constitution – a move that put him on a par with late paramount leaders Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping.

Xi recapped his mantra of turning China into a great Socialist power by 2050 and highlighted his aspiration of steering China through the challenges of a world full of uncertainties.

The announcement of the members of Politburo Standing Committee was made in a press conference broadcast live on state television. Photo: SCMP.

Xi declared yet again that China’s Socialist development had entered a new era, which will make the country under his leadership an upholder of world peace and stability.

He also tried to dismiss mounting concerns and scepticism about China’s rise, proclaiming that the country was ready to play a greater role in the building of “a common destiny for mankind ”.

Xi also pledged China would continue with its peaceful and independent foreign policy, uphold international justice and refrain from interfering into other countries’ domestic affairs.

If these predictions are correct, they may surprise some China watchers as they had expected Xi, as the most powerful leader in China for decades, to introduce more drastic changes:

No putative successor to Xi is likely to be named. Guangdong party chief Hu Chunhua – the widely tipped successor – and the president’s protégé, Chongqing party chief Chen Miner, are both likely to be missing from the Politburo Standing Committee. Instead, they will join the Politburo, which is one rank lower.
Wang Qishan, the feared anti-graft tsar and Xi’s trusted ally, has stepped down from the standing committee. This is confirmed as his name did not appear in the list of the new Central Committee members released yesterday – Politburo members must be on the list. Chinese media had widely expected Xi to break an unwritten retirement-age rule to retain Wang.
Xi’s chief of staff Li Zhanshu will not take over from Wang, as many have thought. He is now most likely to head the country’s parliament – the National People’s Congress – as the country’s number three.
From left, Communist Party organisation chief Zhao Leji, chief of staff Li Zhanshu, and Shanghai party boss Han Zheng at the closing ceremony of the 19th party congress. The three are likely to be promoted to the top leadership body, the Politburo Standing Committee. Photo: EPA
Party organisation chief Zhao Leji is almost certain to be the new anti-graft chief – a move partly confirmed yesterday after his name appeared on the list of new staff of the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection.

Shanghai party boss Han Zheng is tipped to take over the top political advisory body, the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference.

The party’s chief theorist, Wang Huning, is likely to win promotion to the power apex – even though many have deemed him to be too “academic”. He will be in charge of ideology, propaganda and party organisation. His fellow scholar-politician, Liu He, will take over from Wang to provide ideological support, against earlier predictions that he would become a vice-premier.

Vice-premier Wang Yang will also win promotion and will help Li Keqiang to run the State Council – China’s cabinet.

Wang Yang (left), is also predicted to be a new member of the Politburo Standing Committee in the announcement on Wednesday. Photo: Agence France-Presse

So what do these unexpected changes signal?

Xi, for all his power and prestige, still values political norms and continuity. The new line-up, if confirmed, shows that he is careful not to break the age rule and to follow the order of seniority. These political norms are critical for the 89-million member Communist Party to have consensus at the top and maintain stability.

But Xi is also not blindly following the established path. He has made a decision with far-reaching consequences in not naming a clear-cut successor and promoting his choice to the Politburo Standing Committee. This opens the way for China to rethink its power transition mechanism and to give several possible candidates time to prove themselves. The breakaway from the designated successor system introduced by paramount leader Deng Xiaoping is a highlight of this leadership reshuffle.

By putting Li Zhanshu – his most trusted ally – as head of the National People’s Congress and Zhao Leji, the youngest among the seven, as the anti-graft chief, Xi has signalled a desire to further institutionalise the party and state power. Li could help Xi push for legal reform that will clarify grey areas in the legal system and enhance the party’s governance through legal means. Zhao, with his background in personnel arrangements, can introduce more systematic changes to anti-graft work.

The elevation of Wang Huning and Liu He, if confirmed, would signal the pressing need for the president to craft new theoretical support for his reform programmes, which is different from the western understanding of liberalism. The president will restructure the party and the state to improve efficiency, tighten discipline and guard against the influx of western ideas.

Changes at the state level, such as who will head the NPC or the CPPCC, will only be announced early next year.

Other than the Politburo Standing Committee line-up, the changes of personnel at two little known but influential departments will also be important. The party’s general office and the central secretariat – its nerve centre in charge of day-to-day operations – will also change leaders.

The Post will continue to bring you exclusive reports and analysis on China’s most important political meeting in half a decade.