Former anti-corruption chief Zhao Leji was appointed as the new head of China’s top legislative body, the National People’s Congress (NPC), with a unanimous vote during the annual session of the national legislature on Friday. His appointment was followed by those of 14 vice-chairs to the NPC Standing Committee. They include nine executive chairmen of the NPC presidium. Among them are former Tianjin Communist Party boss Li Hongzhong, former Sichuan party boss Wang Dongming and outgoing secretary general of the State Council Xiao Jie. The others include former Sichuan party chief Peng Qinghua, Hunan party chief Zhang Qingwei, Tibet deputy party chief Losang Jamcan and former Xinjiang deputy party chief Shohrat Zakir. Zhao, 66, is No 3 on the Politburo Standing Committee and was named chairman of the NPC Standing Committee, replacing Li Zhanshu, who retired this month. Analysts expect that Zhao – seen as a trusted ally of President Xi Jinping with years of experience in key party organs – will prioritise Xi’s vision in the country’s legislative work, including on issues related to the United States and those concerning foreign entities and “foreign forces”. Those issues were among the legislative priorities for the coming year set out by his predecessor Li on Tuesday, including more engagement with other countries’ parliaments and support for the ruling Communist Party’s diplomatic agenda. Delivering his work report at the legislature’s annual meeting , Li said the NPC’s diplomatic tasks would include “stepping up to the front lines of any legal, political or diplomatic struggle whenever the country requires, without the slightest hesitation, to carry out our political responsibilities as the national legislature and defend China’s sovereignty, security and development interests”. Li also praised the NPC’s work in the past five years, saying it had legislated on matters related to national security and “improved the legal system for opposing foreign sanctions, interference and long-arm jurisdiction”. Alfred Wu, an associate professor with the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy at the National University of Singapore, said Zhao was a Xi ally “with a very high level of trust”. He said that, like Li, Zhao’s role would be to promote Xi’s agenda through legislation. “Xi wants to show his toughness towards the US and strengthen his position domestically,” Wu said, adding that there could be legislation against foreign forces. Chinese Foreign Minister Qin Gang tells US to ‘hit the brakes’ Zhao had been secretary of the top graft-buster, the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection (CCDI), from 2017 until October last year, when he was promoted to the party’s top decision-making body. He replaced Wang Qishan to spearhead Xi’s anti-graft campaign launched in 2012, which targets party, government, military and state-owned company officials suspected of corruption. Former Guangdong party chief Li Xi took over from Zhao as head of the CCDI. Zhao gained a seat on the 25-member Politburo when Xi came to power in 2012. He was also Xi’s chief of staff as head of the Organisation Department, which oversees top appointments in state-run institutions, and he led the secretariat that handles the party’s major day-to-day affairs. Before he was elevated to the party’s core leadership, Zhao was provincial party chief of Shaanxi and Qinghai. He spent over three decades in Qinghai, in the northwest, in roles including governor, party chief of the capital city Xining, and head of the provincial commerce department. Zhao’s time in Qinghai was marked by rapid economic growth and a tripling of the province’s GDP, according to an analysis by the Brookings Institution’s John L. Thornton China Centre. The report said Zhao had played a central role in Xi’s second term when he was in charge of party discipline and supervision. What are China’s ‘two sessions’ and why do they matter? Changhao Wei, a fellow with the Paul Tsai China Centre at Yale Law School, said although the top legislative body exercised collective leadership, the chairman held sway over decision making because of his political status as the third-highest ranking official in the party. “He is therefore the most privy to the party’s priorities and Xi Jinping’s personal thinking, so other legislative officials will defer to – if not outright obey – what he says,” Wei said. With Li as chairman, China’s top legislature passed an anti-sanctions law and imposed the controversial national security law on Hong Kong. Its Foreign Affairs Committee has hit back at resolutions passed in other countries on issues including the Chinese balloon saga and Beijing’s alleged human rights abuses in Xinjiang. Li is also one of Xi’s trusted aides and in September visited Russia, South Korea, Mongolia and Nepal as part of efforts to strengthen ties in the region. Wei noted that the NPC Standing Committee’s agenda was heavily influenced by the party leadership’s agenda – and increasingly Xi’s policy priorities, “especially given that upholding the Communist Party’s leadership is now a legal obligation, and not just a political one”. “The legislature’s role is therefore to implement the party leadership’s decisions and, through oversight, ensure that other state institutions do the same,” he said. The NPC Standing Committee’s five-year legislative plan is expected to be unveiled in autumn. According to Wei, it is likely to be consistent with themes the party has repeatedly emphasised in “important”, “emerging” and “foreign-related” areas. He said those themes could roughly translate to issues at the top of the domestic policy agenda such as innovation, public health and environmental protection, as well as areas like the digital economy, AI and big data, and issues concerning foreign entities, international law and the extraterritoriality of Chinese law.