Beijing: Xi Jinping was unanimously appointed to a second term as China’s president, capping a flurry of votes that confirmed his rise as the country’s paramount leader and installed a trusted ally as No. 2.
China’s rubber-stamp parliament approved Xi’s appointment to a second five-year term on Saturday in Beijing, days after repealing constitutional provisions barring him from a serving a third. The National People’s Congress also confirmed Wang Qishan — a well-known economic reformer who oversaw Xi’s signature anti-corruption campaign — as vice president.
The votes cap months of Communist Party conclaves and pageantry that confirmed Xi’s status as arguably the world’s most powerful leader. Xi, 64, got his name written into the constitution and party charter — putting him on a status equal to Mao Zedong — and laid the groundwork for breaking the precedent of handing over power after two complete terms.
“Xi will be chairman of everything," said Ether Yin, a partner at advisory firm Trivium China in Beijing. “He has effectively put himself at the center of the whole country."
While most of Xi’s power flows from his roles as party chief and supreme military commander, being president — or “chairman" in Chinese — gives him legal standing as head of state. The largely ceremonial role of vice president is second in succession and can carry out duties delegated by the chief executive.
Wang’s appointment to the vice presidency allows Xi to retain a trusted surrogate with connections to the US diplomatic and financial communities. He helped set up China’s first investment bank with Morgan Stanley in the 1990s and also established enduring ties with prominent Wall Street figures such as Hank Paulson.
Wang, 69, and Xi have known each other since their days as “sent down youths" in China’s countryside during Mao’s Cultural Revolution. After Xi came to power in 2012, Wang was charged with overseeing Xi’s campaign against corruption, disciplining more than 1.5 million party cadres, including the country’s retired security chief and another official once seen as a presidential contender.
Yanmei Xie, a China policy analyst for Gavekal Dragonomics in Beijing, said appointing Wang could extend decision-making beyond the seven-member Politburo Standing Committee, the party’s top body and a key component of the collective leadership system set up after Mao’s tumultuous rule.
“Basically, it’s him minimizing collective leadership without abolishing the institution all together," Xie said. “Xi will be relying on a collection of personal advisers to run the country and make decisions."
Chinese lawmakers were expected to confirm new terms for more top officials — including Premier Li Keqiang and top military and law enforcement officials — in votes Sunday. Several minister-level appointments were scheduled for Monday, including a replacement for retiring central bank chief Zhou Xiaochuan and the head of a new agency to regulate the country’s $43 trillion finance-and-insurance sector.
Beside appointing Xi, the legislature also passed a plan Saturday to create, eliminate or consolidate dozens of state agencies under a sweeping government overhaul aimed at solidifying party control. Lawmakers were also expected to confirm the leader of a powerful new law enforcement and ethics commission to police millions of public servants, party officials, academics, journalists and state company managers.
The changes leave Xi with sole responsibility for China’s $12 trillion economy, mounting debt pile, more aspirational middle class and growing overseas interests. He’s attempting to build a developed economy without loosening political control, staking the party’s legitimacy on its ability to make China rich and strong.
Centralized control by one man could become a problem should his health fail or subordinates hesitate to question bad decisions from the top. Still, Xi’s new power might provide reassurance to investors who believe that bureaucratic resistance has slowed his reform agenda.
“Keeping the presidency also helps end any speculation that a successor will emerge in the next five years," Yin said. “It allows him to focus on what he will do with his power." Bloomberg