In the run up to China’s National Party Congress, there were whispers that a high level official in state security had been wiretapping the President. After all, why else would Sun Lijun, previously the vice-minister of public security, have been sentenced to death for taking bribes that others got much lighter sentences for?
But if Sun was wiretapping Xi Jinping, who was behind him? Wishful speculation abounded, often from overseas observers. Had Xi pushed the country too far with his zero Covid policy? Are there secret daggers drawn from rivals who lament the days of double-digit growth?
But with the Party Congress now finished, it’s clear that Xi no longer needs to worry about organised opposition to him, if indeed he ever faced any. The new Politburo Standing Committee – the seven-member inner cabinet of Chinese politics – has been packed with Xi acolytes. All norms have been thrown out the window in this reshuffle, whether that be retirement for those 68 and over, or at least one woman on the Politburo. Not to mention, of course, that ten-year term limit for the top leader, now merely a historical footnote. Former Central Party School professor Cai Xia had previously dubbed the Chinese Communist party under Xi a ‘political zombie’. Well, zombification is now complete.
The President’s new men are all trusted lieutenants from Xi’s previous posts. In a one-party system, ideological differences matter less for building factions than loyalty and a history of working together. Shanghai party secretary Li Qiang, expected to become China’s premier in March, had worked for Xi when Xi was governor of Zhejiang. Shanghai’s prolonged struggle with coronavirus earlier this year would have dented the prospects of a lesser man, but Li’s boneheaded dedication to the inhumane lockdown may even have helped his chances in Xi’s eyes.
In the past, Li has been known for being pro-reform and pro-market, saying in 2015 that he believes in ‘three hands’.