Period: Jul - Sep 2022
The 20th Party Congress is one of the most significant events for China. The power is concentrated in the hands of a few on the top in any authoritarian system. In the case of China, President Xi Jinping undoubtedly holds the most power. He currently has the three highest posts in the nation, namely, the President of the People’s Republic of China (PRC), the General Secretary of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and the Chairman of the Central Military Commission (CMC). He has abolished the age criteria for the President, so we can be sure that he will come to power for the third time. He would likely not choose an heir in this or even in the next Party Congress. Xi will be the first President after Mao Zedong to be elected for the third time. However, confusion and chaos might arise in case of Xi’s sudden death.
Criteria for promotion of officials
Officials in the Politburo Standing Committee (PSC) and Politburo will retire, and new ones will take their place. The criteria for promoting leaders are Age, Associations or Networks and Job Expertise. The informal rule regarding the age that has existed since the 1990s is the “seven up, eight down” rule. This means that officials at the age of 67 can continue, whereas officials at 68 will retire. This norm has been enforced regularly, except for the secretary general.
The second criterion, Associations or Networks, are the intersections between top-level officials and mid-level cadres in either educational institutes or when they held party positions together. These linkages significantly influence the chances of advancement for the officials. At the 19th Party Congress in 2017, most newly promoted Politburo members had previously worked or attended school with Xi. Xi’s faction was moulded by four important events in his career: Fujian, Zhejiang, Shanghai and Tsinghua University. He also gained a few faction members in northwest China through familial connections. We can either expect full-blown Xi faction members in the PSC and the Politburo, or there might be some balancing by Xi as he might include leaders from other factions.
Finally, professional experience is still significant, even though age and network may be the most crucial factors for promotions. Technocrats hold importance, and Xi sees that as an asset and promotes them. Though they do not appear to be part of any clear political alliances, technocrats have developed their cohort among provincial and ministerial leaders. Since 2017, the percentage of technocrat local officials (party secretaries and governors) has increased more than twofold, from 35% to 74%. Over the past year, technocrats have also been elevated to lead ministries. Technocrats with experience, plus if they fall into a category of Xi’s liking for a field, such as Aerospace, are likely to get promoted.
Possible changes and implications
Although the 19th Party Congress was not wholly Xi-dominated, his power has only increased since then, and he might wield more power in the 20th Party Congress. Two PSC leaders, Li Zhanshu (72) and Han Zheng (68), will retire according to the age criteria. Other officials should continue with a reshuffling in ministries. Li Keqiang (67) should be able to continue, and if he does, he will remain the Premier of China. We can expect a continuation of the tussle between Xi and Li on the economic front, with Li wanting to go forward with pro-market policies, whereas Xi wants to see a pro-state economy. Li has, however, announced that he will retire from the Premier position in 2023. He should continue as a member of the PSC even after retiring as Premier. Wang Yang and Wang Huning (both aged 67) are the Chairmen of the National Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) and the secretary of the CCP’s Secretariat, respectively. They should continue in the same positions as well. Wang Huning has worked with three Chinese leaders (Jiang Zemin, Hu Jintao and Xi Jinping) and has played a significant role in forming their central ideologies. Zhao Leji (65), who rose to prominence as the secretary of the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection (CCDI), is well below the age of 68 and should continue in the same post.
According to Victor Shih at Columbia University, Xi favourites Ding Xuexiang (Director of the General Office of the CCP) and Li Qiang (Party Secretary of Shanghai) should take the place of Li Zhanshu and Han Zheng. According to Jane Cai at SCMP, other potential candidates for the PSC are Chen Min’er, Hu Chunhua, Chen Quanguo, Cai Qi, Li Hongzhong, Li Xi, and Huang Kunming (all from the Xi faction). They all hold crucial portfolios as either party secretaries of provinces or municipalities or heads of essential party organs.
However, some analysts suspect Xi Jinping might change the age criterion from “seven up, eight down” to “six up, seven down”. He might do this so that all leaders who are not part of the Xi faction will have to step down (Li Keqiang, Wang Yang and Wang Huning). Xi can then usher in leaders only from his faction. Wang Yang and Wang Huning enjoy Xi’s support even though they are not from the Xi faction. Experts are divided on whether Xi will choose leaders from only his faction or he will take candidates from non-Xi factions, resulting in a diverse cabinet.
As far as the Politburo is concerned, 8 out of the 25 members are set to retire per the age criterion. They are Wang Chen, Liu He, Xu Qiliang, Sun Chunlan, Yang Jiechi, Yang Xiaodu, Zhang Youxia and Chen Xi. Among them, Xu Qiliang and Zhang Youxia are military personnel, whereas Sun Chunlan is the only female member of this group.
Professor Lee Jonghyuk at the Nanyang Technological University (NTU) says that the position left vacant by Sun Chunlan might be filled by either Shen Yiqin (Guizhou Party Secretary) or Xian Hui (Ningxia Chairperson). Both are non-Han female minorities, so appointing them would also help Xi preserve some diversity in the group. Miao Hua and Zhang Shengmin are most likely candidates to fill the place of military-affiliated positions. Both are high-ranking officials close to Xi, so they are most likely to be selected. The remaining positions are supposed to be taken by Han, male, and civilian candidates. Professor Lee has predicted that Hu Heping, Lou Yangsheng, Wang Dongfeng, Wang Zhimin and Chen Jining can take the vacant portfolios. They are all close to Xi and hold essential party positions.
1 Shih, Victor (2022). Age, Factions and Specialisation in the Path to the New Leadership at the 20th Party Congress. In F. N. Pieke and B. Hofman (Ed.), CPC Futures: The New Era of Socialism with Chinese Characteristics (pp. 26-32)
3 Ma, Damien. Almost Here: The Most Consequential Political Event of the Year. 23 Aug, 2022. Macro Polo. https://macropolo.org/analysis/most-consequential-political-event-of-the-year/
4 Shih, CPC Futures: The New Era of Socialism with Chinese Characteristics (pp. 26-32).
5 Cai, Jane. Why size matters when it comes to China’s new leadership line-up. 9 Sep, 2022. SCMP. https://www.scmp.com/news/china/politics/article/3191834/why-size-matters-when-it-comes-chinas-new-leadership-line
6 Jonghyuk, Lee (2022). A Data-driven Assessment of the CPC Leadership. In F. N. Pieke and B. Hofman (Ed.), CPC Futures: The New Era of Socialism with Chinese Characteristics (pp. 33-37)
* Swayamsiddha Samal is a research assistant at the United Services Institution (USI), New Delhi. She has a B.A. from Jawaharlal Nehru University in Mandarin and an M.A. from Pondicherry University in Politics and International Relations.