Xi's top aide may not make it to top body, set to retire

Beijing
22 Oct 2017

Chinese President Xi Jinping may not have his way at the ongoing CPC Congress, as his closest aide is likely to step down from the powerful Standing Committee belying speculation that he would be retained beyond the party's retirement age limit, a media report said today. Wang Qishan, 69, Xi's feared anti-graft 'tsar' - billed as 'China's second most powerful man' - is likely to step down from the Standing Committee on Wednesday. Also, the once-in-five-years Congress of the ruling Communist Party of China (CPC) may keep the number of members of the Standing Committee, which virtually rules the country, to seven, contrary to Xi's reported preference of restricting it to five, the Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post reported, quoting sources. The new seven-member committee which will be revealed on October 25, may retain the balance of power among various factions within the party, though Xi, who is expected to get the endorsement for a second five-year term, may still remain powerful with the induction of some of his close associates into the Standing Committee, the report said. The Post, bought by Alibaba chairman Jack Ma a few years ago, has become a major source of "leaks" considering the secretive nature of the power politics of the CPC.
Speculation about Wang's future dominated overseas media coverage ahead of the CPC Congress as he was regarded as the lynchpin of Xi's massive anti-corruption drive in which over a million officials, including some top officials like security czar Zhou Yongkang, were punished. It is understood that Xi has carefully weighed his options and consulted Wang. In the end, the president decided to let Wang retire from the Politburo Standing Committee largely because he had reached the unofficial retirement age, the Post report said. Trey McArver, co-founder of Beijing-based research firm Trivium China, said Xi could change or negotiate some sort of exception to the norm if necessary, but he would back off if it risked undermining party stability.
"Part of the reason Xi is so powerful is because he has a broad range of support at the top of the party. He would seek a consensus if he wanted to keep Wang on, but if he perceives there would be a political cost, or there was no buy in from other members of the political elite, I think he might back off," he told the Post.
Since 2002, all top leaders of the CPC have followed an unwritten rule of retiring at the age of 68. Xi, regarded as the most powerful Chinese leader in recent times heading the party, the presidency, and the military, is also expected to retire by 2022 after his second term. But speculation is rife that he would break that retirement age convention and may continue for a third term considering his powerful stature in the party, that equals that of party founder Mao Zedong. In that respect, Wang's continuation despite the retirement age norm, was regarded as a signal. However, Wang might take up a position at the powerful National Security Commission (NSC) to continue to be associated with the government. Established in 2014, the NSC provides unified leadership for different security apparatus, the Post report said. The CPC Congress which began on October 18 is scheduled to end on October 24 and the leadership is expected to be officially announced on October 25.
Barring Xi and Premier Li Keqiang, 63, the other five members of the Standing Committee will be new faces with hints of a future successor to Xi. The Post also reported that "based on information from several sources", the five new faces to join China's top decision-making body will be Li Zhanshu, Han Zheng, Zhao Leji, Wang Yang, and Wang Huning. "Together with Li Keqiang, they will form a new team to support the Standing Committee's 'core' member Xi, who is set to emerge as the most powerful leader in decades," the Post report said. Wang Yang, 62, is most likely to become China's executive vice-premier while Shanghai party chief Han Zheng, 63, may head the advisory body Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC). Besides Wang Yang, who is regarded as a close confidant of Xi, another Xi loyalist Li Zhanshu, 67, is expected to be inducted into the Standing Committee. Han Zheng, 63, is regarded as loyalist of former president Hu Jintao, while Zhao Leji, 60, has roots in Shaanxi province, the home province of Xi. Wang Huning, 62, is a politburo member and a party theorist. It is to be seen whether this particular group of leaders projected by the report will get into the Standing Committee which will balance various factions of the party. "The promotions show that Xi wants to maintain political continuity and stability, according to one source. They also show that political norms such as respect for seniority and the balance of power among factions still matter," the Post report said. (PTI)