Xi Jinping’s second term begins with show of unequivocal loyalty from lawmakers

With close ally Wang Qishan returning to centre stage as vice-president, they will make a powerful duo – with no limits on their time in office

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 17 March, 2018, 10:51pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 18 March, 2018, 10:31am

Xi Jinping started his second term as China’s president on Saturday with a show of unchallenged authority, receiving full support from the legislature while his trusted ally was brought back to political centre stage.

With no other candidate in the running, the unanimous vote by the largely ceremonial National People’s Congress was more of a political statement – proclaiming unequivocal loyalty and deference to the country’s most powerful leader in decades.

In another confirmation of Xi’s political clout, former anti-corruption tsar Wang Qishan was returned to Xi’s side as the vice-president, making him the first Communist Party member without a rank to take the job since 1998.

Xi also became the first Chinese state leader to take a constitutional oath, as both the country’s president and head of its military – a symbolic move to show the significance of the constitution after it was revised a week ago to scrap the presidential term limit, add Xi’s political theory and emphasise the party’s leadership of China.

Wang retired from the supreme, seven-member Politburo Standing Committee in October, observing an unwritten rule on the retirement age.

His comeback was approved with 2,969 out of 2,970 votes in favour, and one against.

But Wang is likely to take the vice-president job a bit further than his predecessors, who played a largely ceremonial role. He is expected to take a major role in foreign policy, in particular handling rocky relations with the United States.

Despite the personal rapport between Xi and his US counterpart Donald Trump, ties between the two nations have been fraught as trade disputes escalate and amid growing rivalry on the economy, militarily and in geopolitics.

Known for his “firefighting” skills and ability to handle the tough tasks, Wang is seen by many as a good fit for the job, especially given his extensive experience in dealing with the US.

Will Wang Qishan’s new job become a problem for the Communist Party?

“Given Wang’s character, he is not someone who is doing this out of vanity or who’s going after a ceremonial title. He would be wanting to really do something – something that actually makes a difference,” said a political scientist based in mainland China who requested anonymity because he has been told not to speak to the media.

“How much power Wang will have depends on how much power Xi is willing to give him – and we all know how much trust Xi has for him,” he added.

The powerful duo will not be bound by any restrictions on their time in office after the legislature removed term limits for the presidency and vice-presidency from the constitution last week.

On Saturday, lawmakers also appointed Xi as chairman of the Central Military Commission, while another close ally, Li Zhanshu, was endorsed as NPC chairman.

Russian President Vladimir Putin was one of the first foreign leaders to send his congratulations to Xi for securing a second term – which he did even before the NPC session ended – saying the legislature’s decision had again proven Xi’s “high prestige”.

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While they were reluctant to comment on the constitutional revisions when the annual legislative session began last week, delegates were keen to heap praise on Xi and Wang when asked about the results on Saturday.

Xu Dazhe, governor of southern Hunan province, hailed the unanimous vote in support of Xi’s second term as “the call of the era, the will of the people”.

Hong Kong deputy to the NPC Brave Chan Yung meanwhile extolled the virtues of Wang, particularly for his anti-graft campaign that has punished over 1.5 million cadres, instilling discipline and fear into party ranks.

“He was chosen as vice-president because his anti-corruption work in the past five years has been recognised by the people of China, and even the rest of the world,” Chan said. “He has also had experience dealing with economic affairs.”

Additional reporting by Choi Chi-yuk and Jun Mai