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China's Xi reveals new leadership team but no obvious successor

Posted October 24, 2017 11:59 p.m. EDT
Updated October 25, 2017 2:14 a.m. EDT

— China's President Xi Jinping is here to stay.

The new lineup for the Chinese Communist Party's all-powerful Politburo Standing Committee (PBSC) was unveiled Wednesday, without a heir apparent to Xi, who analysts predict will continue dominate the country's politics for decades to come.

Of the five new faces in the seven-member committee, the youngest will be 65 in 2022 -- when Xi finishes his second term as leader -- just three years off the informal retirement age for top officials.

"It's certainly not a team of rivals. This is a team of advisers," said James McGregor, author of "No Ancient Wisdom, No Followers: The Challenges of Chinese Authoritarian Capitalism." "It's all about Xi Jinping, it's about his power."

He predicted Xi will "remain in some form of power probably until he dies," pointing to Deng Xiaoping, who retired from official positions but remained "paramount leader" until his death in 1997.

Xi himself was 54 when he joined the standing committee in 2007. Chen Min'er, 57, a rising star in the Communist Party, was admitted to the 25-member Politburo, one rung below the PBSC, but not the top body.

"Xi Jinping will (likely) stay on as party secretary and then party chairman, and someone else will be become president," McGregor said. "We're into a new game here."

New leadership team

The new standing committee line-up was revealed in a highly choreographed ceremony at Beijing's Great Hall of the People.

Xi and Premier Li Keqiang, the only members of the previous standing committee not to retire, were joined by Li Zhanshu, Wang Yang, Wang Huning, Zhao Leji and Han Zheng.

The standing committee remains entirely male, with the Politburo including only one woman (down from two) Sun Chunlan, maintaining an almost complete lack of female leadership in China.

The announcement follows the end of the Communist Party National Congress, the biggest event in China's political calendar, which is held every five years.

"Over the past five years we have set out a broad agenda, some tasks have been completed while others need more work," Xi said after introducing the new committee.

"With decades of hard work, socialism with Chinese characteristics has entered a new era," he said, in an apparent reference to Xi Jinping Thought, which was enshrined in the party's constitution on Tuesday, only the second time in history a living Chinese leader has had their authority recognized in this way.

Xi appeared relaxed as he led the other men onto stage. The six men stood with blank facial expressions, bowing slightly as he briefly introduced them one by one, before urging people to learn more about them "from the media."

Anti-corruption campaign

Zhao Leji, 60, the youngest new standing committee member, inherits one of the most powerful roles in Chinese politics, becoming head of the party's anti-corruption task force.

He replaces Wang Qishan, 69, Xi's right-hand man in the graft crackdown, who some had expected to stay on despite being above the retirement age.

Tackling graft and corruption has been a major priority of Xi's and his investigators have taken down many high ranking officials, though some analysts have said the campaign is more about neutering potential opponents and score settling rather than actually rooting out bad apples.

"Exercising full and rigorous governance over the party is a journey for which there is no end," Xi said Wednesday.

"We must continue to rid ourselves of any virus that erodes the party's fabric."