What We Learned on the Final Day of China’s 19th Party Congress

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China's Xi Joins Mao as Credited in Constitution

President Xi Jinping -- entering his second five-year term in China -- further cemented his grip on power as the Communist Party enshrined both his name and ideology in its constitution, elevating him to a status only achieved by Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping.

Here is what we learned on the seventh and final day of the party’s twice-a-decade congress.

‘Xi Jinping Thought’

The party revised its constitution to list “Xi Jinping thought on socialism with Chinese characteristics for a new era” alongside the theories of Mao and Deng. While former presidents Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao also secured contributions to the document, neither was featured by name. The revisions cement Xi’s rapid consolidation of power, laying the groundwork for him to potentially influence policy in China well past his second term.

Central Committee

The congress also selected a new Central Committee with the lineup of 204 full members featuring several younger figures who could help extend Xi’s influence into the future. Left off the list was powerful anti-graft chief Wang Qishan, 69. Current retirement conventions mandate stepping down at age 68, so if Wang had stayed on it would have signaled Xi breaking with tradition to keep allies in key posts.

Economic Policy Continuity 

Liu He, one of Xi’s closest financial and economic advisers, was reappointed to the Central Committee, a signal leaders aren’t looking to make significant changes to economic policy in the next five years. Liu has played a key role, mostly behind the scenes, as director of the party’s general office of the Central Leading Group for Financial and Economic Affairs.

The Main Event

The new members of the Politburo Standing Committee, China’s supreme political body, will walk onto a red-carpeted stage on Wednesday at the first plenary session of the 19th Central Committee. The number of committee members (there are now seven), their identities and ages will provide important clues to Xi’s plans. Here are some potential scenarios:

  • All seven on the committee are more than 60 years old: This means Xi has avoided selecting a successor for now, because none of them would be eligible for a two-term presidency from 2022 under the current retirement rules.
  • One or more of the seven members is under the age of 60, young enough to stay in power through 2032: This suggests Xi has probably picked one of them as his successor -- the first one to take to the stage will be considered the anointed one, as they walk out in order of rank.
  • Only five members walk onto the stage: Reducing the Standing Committee circle would put Xi in charge of China’s smallest leadership group in three decades. That would continue a shift that began five years ago, when the committee was slashed from nine.
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