Power grab by Xi Jinping and why it matters

This weekend’s National People’s Congress will serve as the metaphorical capstone on Xi Jinping’s massive power grab.

No one else has even the slightest chance of challenging China’s leader, who has completely restructured the Communist Party and placed himself at its centre.

The personnel change that will be disclosed during the annual political conference, a rubber-stamp assembly of over 3,000 delegates, will serve as the most glaring example of this.

Consider the position of the premier, who, in principle, is the sole person in the power hierarchy after Mr. Xi and is responsible for managing the second-largest economy in the world.

On day one, the spotlight will be on departing premier Li Keqiang. At the conclusion, a new premier who is probably certainly Li Qiang will take the spotlight.

These are extremely different individuals, especially in terms of how committed they are to Mr. Xi, who ten years ago ignited a revolution by slicing through the ranks of opposing party groups with his anti-corruption campaign.

The selections to the seven-person Politburo Standing Committee at the Communist Party Congress in October of last year meant that the most powerful committee in the nation now entirely consisted of Xi supporters.

The leaders of numerous departments and ministerial offices will be replaced at this gathering. All of them are anticipated to belong to the same group.

They are still qualified, but will they be willing to give the guy who placed them there fearless and candid advice?

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An experienced businessperson told the BBC, “On the one side, this might mean Xi can really get things done with his new leadership, but, on the other, there is a possibility that he will be trapped in an echo chamber.

What would these appointments therefore indicate for China’s future?

If Li Qiang is in fact the new premier, it will have been a stratospheric rise for him if he is sitting up there on the final day of the NPC answering filtered questions at the annual news conference.

He oversaw the disastrous two-month shutdown of China’s financial center last year while serving as the party chief of Shanghai.

Because of this, many people were shocked when he was elevated to the position of number two inside the Communist Party.

It was more how poorly it was handled than that there had been a lockdown. Delivery personnel being confined to their homes made it difficult to convey food and medicine to the many millions of people who were prohibited from going outdoors.

There were severe food shortages, and locals shared images of the decaying vegetables they were forced to eat when supply did come through.

They had had enough by the time the city was completely shut down. They were tearing down the barriers put up to keep them out and fighting with the guards stationed to uphold the then-hated zero-Covid strategy.

How the individual in command of this catastrophic logistical failure was given the position of leading the entire nation has been questioned by observers.

Clearly, his past presents a different picture, for starters. Some members of the business community formerly viewed him as an innovator who could work through Party rigidities.

He is intelligent and a skilled operator, but his dedication to Xi is undoubtedly the reason he was hired. Joerg Wuttke, head of the European Union Chamber of Commerce in China, claims that when the president asks him to leap, he replies, “How high? He has been conducting business in the nation since the 1990s and has longstanding relationships with the leadership of the Communist Party.

Mr. Wuttke continued by saying that both enterprises and regular customers are still suffering as a result of the zero-Covid approach.

Because of the trauma of the zero-Covid period, there is caution when it comes to spending, he claims. People have been shell-shocked by the recent events in China. They are cautious when taking chances and deliberate when choosing their course of action. In Shanghai, where this trauma is particularly prevalent, the appeal for international investment has significantly diminished.

Nonetheless, Mr. Wuttke and other entrepreneurs agree that Li Qiang is not primarily to blame for this.

Tesla is credited with arriving in Shanghai thanks to Li Qiang. It was the corporation’s first facility outside of the US, and it was permitted to establish its own business without being forced to collaborate with a Chinese company the way other foreign automakers had been forced to.

While trumpeting the benefits of Shanghai’s pilot Free Trade Zone in 2019, he claimed it would become a territory open to international competitiveness, which would “act as an important carrier for China to become fully connected with economic globalisation”.

In certain areas, he is viewed as a more liberal leader who is willing to break the law.

But it’s not obvious whether he will now be a rule-bending enforcer, unafraid to carry out his duties because he has Mr. Xi’s support, or a previous pragmatic who will submit on a far bigger stage, just outside Mr. Xi’s shadow.

In 2016, he was appointed party secretary for Jiangsu, an affluent province in eastern China that is well-known for its tech firms. Jack Ma, the founder of Alibaba, and other executives were sought out in order to discuss the region’s business environment.

But, that was a different era. Mr. Xi has recently issued orders to rein in internet businesses because he feels they have grown too powerful for their own good. The latest “disappearance” was by billionaire banker Bao Fan, who mediated important tech agreements, so that they could be questioned by the Party’s discipline inspection officers.

Li Qiang doesn’t appear to have supported this in the past, but he and Mr. Xi have a lengthy history together.

Before moving to Jiangsu, he was located in Zhejiang, a rich eastern province south of Shanghai. Li served as Xi Jinping’s chief of staff at the time, and the two worked into the night to impress individuals in positions of authority. At the time, Xi Jinping was the provincial party chairman.

Mr. Xi and departing premier Li Keqiang never had a same upbringing.

They ascended together during a time when there was much more group leadership, and Li Keqiang was in some ways a rival at that time. He was also a potential contender for the top position. You can’t help but think how different China would be now if he had been successful rather than Xi.

Li Keqiang, a talented economist who received his degree from Peking University just after the Cultural Revolution, advanced through the Party levels by way of the Communist Youth League, a rival political force.

Despite being passed up for the top position, he soon found himself in a tight position as premier under Mr. Xi, who was in charge of the organization with a level of power not seen since Mao Zedong, the founder of the People’s Republic of China.

Li Keqiang stated that the reintroduction of street sellers in cities all across China would help revitalize the economy and foster a livelier environment at one point during his tenure as prime. Yet the authorities quickly ordered people who responded to the call in Beijing to leave once more.

Anything makes the capital appear “backwards” or “old fashioned” is to be avoided under Mr. Xi. It made little difference that the premier, to boot, had made this suggestion. It would not work in Beijing.

Li Keqiang was perceived to support former leader Hu Jintao, who was removed from the stage at the Party Congress last year on orders from Mr. Xi.

Whether Mr. Hu was acting out because he was ill or because his employees had been passed over for promotion, this still-unknown event brought an era to an end in front of the cameras of the entire globe.

He gave Li Keqiang a courteous shoulder touch as he was being brought away, and the premier responded by nodding.

Li Keqiang will be recognized for his successful track record in the economy, but the zero-Covid controversy dogged the end of his administration.

He said that at the worst of it, the economy was under tremendous stress and urged officials to exercise caution so as not to stifle growth.

Yet, there was no contest when cadres had to decide between his directive to save the economy and Mr. Xi’s to maintain zero-Covid with strict discipline.

Nothing surpasses Xi Jinping, who has the party set up exactly how he wants it at this point.

He doesn’t appear to be in any danger other than the fact that some members of the public are less likely to trust him now.

His reputation has been harmed by Zero-Covid, the hasty abandonment of Zero-Covid following widespread protests, the real estate crisis, high youth unemployment, the IT crackdown, and the significant harm to the service sector.

When the economy was at its worst and people didn’t have much to lose, Mr. Wuttke claims that Mao managed to survive. “People’s quality of life has significantly improved now, but middle-class parents are beginning to worry that their children won’t have a better life than they do.”

Those who want to know where this economic behemoth is going will be eagerly watching this year’s NPC, especially those who are elevated at the gathering.

As all obstacles to the leader’s will have been removed, China should soon be operating at full capacity if Mr. Xi’s way is what it’s claimed to be.

The challenging questions will start to surface if the nation is not functioning well across the board.

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