Xi Unveils China’s New Leaders but No Clear Successor
BEIJING — The ceremony in Beijing’s Great Hall of the People on Wednesday was meant to introduce the world to China’s new leaders, members of an elite committee that for decades has tried to govern by consensus and sometimes has been compared to a corporate board of directors.
Instead, the nationally televised event was more a display of the political power that Xi Jinping has amassed in just five years as president. None of the other members of the new Politburo Standing Committee could be considered equals or potential rivals. The six men stood stiffly in dark suits on the stage, each bowing as Xi introduced them.
After reciting their names, Xi added almost offhandedly: “More information about them can be found through media outlets.”
The debut of the new Standing Committee, the pinnacle of power in China, capped a weeklong Communist Party congress that became a celebration of Xi’s one-man style of rule and his promise to lead a resurgent China to a place at the center of the world stage.
“Over the past five years, we’ve done a lot. Some work has been finished; some we must continue with,” Xi said as his new colleagues, all men in their 60s, lined up before cameras. “A new era needs a new look, and even more needs new accomplishments.”
For the first time in a generation, the new Standing Committee did not include a younger leader who would be groomed as heir apparent. The decision to delay anointing a successor broke with the unwritten conventions that have ensured relatively stable leadership changes since the era of Deng Xiaoping, which was beset by schisms and purges.
By setting himself up as the strongest ruler since Deng, Xi has pushed the world’s newest superpower into new and potentially dangerous political territory. On Tuesday, its final day, the congress elevated Xi, 64, to the same exalted status as the nation’s founder, Mao Zedong, by enshrining “Xi Jinping Thought” into the party’s constitution.
“If Xi goes for broke and breaks precedent by not preparing for an orderly and peaceful succession, he is putting a target on his back and risking a backlash from other ambitious politicians,” said Susan L. Shirk, chairwoman of the 21st Century China Center at the University of California San Diego.
“By taking such a risk, he shows himself to be more like Mao than we originally thought — he demonstrates his power by overturning institutions,” she added.
Critics say the concentration of power in one man’s hands has left officials unsure how to execute policies or afraid to deviate from top-down demands.
Such problems could worsen. “Mr. Xi’s accrual of power heralds a more determined push around his favored economic policy initiatives and efforts to reassert the party’s role within public life,” said Tom Rafferty, an analyst with the Economist Intelligence Unit. “However, aggressive centralization will also bring risks.”
Xi’s victory at the congress means he will welcome President Trump to China next month more confident than ever in his hold on power and the party’s support for his more assertive foreign policy.