By Spy Uganda Correspondent
Xi Jinping secured a historic third term as leader of China on Sunday, cementing his status as the country’s most powerful figure in decades and extending his authoritarian rule over the world’s second-largest economy.
Xi’s third five-year term became official when he was first to walk out on stage at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, where a twice-a-decade congress of the ruling Chinese Communist Party wrapped up on Saturday. He was followed in descending order of rank by the six other members of the new Politburo Standing Committee, China’s top leadership body.
Xi is breaking with tradition by remaining in office, having amended the Chinese Constitution in 2018 to remove the two-term limit on the presidency. The Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping introduced the limit in 1982 to prevent a return to a Mao-style cult of personality.
The Chinese political system is structured around Xi, 69, who heads the state, the military and — most importantly — the Chinese Communist Party. Since coming to power in 2012, Xi has tightened the party’s grip on the state and society, sidelined political rivals and stamped out dissent.
Over the years, Xi — whom the party named a “core” leader in 2016, putting him on par with Mao and Deng — has increasingly surrounded himself with people unlikely to challenge him or his policies.
“What we’re starting to see is sort of an undermining of a lot of the rules, both formal and informal, that were put in place by his predecessors in favor of him getting his allies into the top jobs,” said James Gethyn Evans, communications officer at the Fairbank Center for Chinese Studies at Harvard.
The trend continued Sunday, when the makeup of the new Politburo Standing Committee was revealed. Xi allies Li Qiang, Cai Qi, Ding Xuexiang and Li Xi joined current members Wang Huning and Zhao Leji to form Xi’s inner circle.
Li Qiang, who as party secretary of Shanghai oversaw the city’s devastating two-month Covid lockdown last spring, came out immediately behind Xi, indicating that he will succeed Premier Li Keqiang as China’s No. 2 official.
There is no obvious successor among the members of the Standing Committee, who are all men in their 60s, in a sign that Xi could be eyeing a fourth term as well.