President Xi Jinping walked onto the red carpet of China’s Great Hall of the People on Wednesday (25 October) having amassed more power than any leader in a generation.
Behind him followed – in order of rank – the other six members of the Politburo Standing Committee, the panel that meets weekly to manage the affairs of almost one-fifth of the world’s population. The new line-up chosen after the Communist Party’s twice-a-decade congress surrounds Xi with proven loyalists to advance his ambitious plans to cement one-party rule and complete China’s reemergence as a great power.
Here’s a look at the officials who will help Xi run China for the next five years, in the order they appeared:
Li Keqiang, 62
Once seen as a contender for the presidency, Li Keqiang watched Xi win the top job and instead became premier, overseeing the day-to-day affairs of the government. The job appeared a natural fit for Li who holds a Ph.D in economics and served as top lieutenant to former Premier Wen Jiabao.
During his tenure, Li has advocated a radical reduction in bureaucracy, and once said that unleashing market forces would be “very painful and even feel like cutting one’s wrist.” His image took a hit during the 2015 stock market rout and Xi has quickly assumed many economic and diplomatic roles held by past premiers. Still, if there’s any gap between Xi’s vision and Li’s, outsiders haven’t been allowed to see it. Li remains one of the most public voices for the president’s economic policies.
Li Zhanshu, 67
Before becoming Xi’s chief of staff in 2012, Li Zhanshu toiled for decades in rural obscurity, writing poetry and serving in positions spanning from China’s ancient heartland of Shaanxi to the rust belt province of Heilongjiang. His ties with Xi stretch back to the 1980s, when they served in adjacent counties in the the central province of Hebei.
That relationship came in handy when he was plucked to lead the party’s General Office, a powerful agency that oversees the itineraries of all top leaders and serves as the president’s de facto chief of staff. Li’s portfolio has since expanded even further. Not only is he among an exclusive group of top officials who accompany Xi’s on diplomatic visits, he’s also become the leader’s personal liaison to Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Wang Yang, 62
Wang Yang rose to prominence before the 2012 party congress as a leading voice in an unusually public debate about China’s economy. He supported a relatively liberal package of policies – called the “Guangdong model,” for the southern industrial province he ran at the time – that allowed a greater role for non-profits and trade unions. He even made Time Magazine’s most-influential list after bringing pro-democracy protests in the fishing village of Wukan to a peaceful resolution. His approach contrasted with Bo Xilai’s “Chongqing model,” which emphasised social cohesion and the role of the state. Both seemed destined for the Standing Committee, before Bo’s spectacular fall amid graft allegations. Wang also missed the cut, but ended up a vice-premier in charge of economic policies and a key liaison to the US.
Wang Huning, 62
After two decades in Beijing quietly shaping China’s most consequential policies, Wang Huning has reached the pinnacle of power. The former dean of Fudan University Law School has long been China’s preeminent political theorist and foreign policy guru, advising three presidents. Wang helped draft Jiang Zemin’s “Three Represents,” which drew entrepreneurs, capitalists and intellectuals under the party’s umbrella. As an academic, he studied power transitions and legal systems and advocated the strengths of strong central leadership over fractious democratic systems. Having served as the Central Committee’s Policy Research Office for the past 15 years, his ascension to the Standing Committee dovetails with Xi’s increased emphasis on communist ideology.
Zhao Leji, 60
Zhao Leji is among a handful of officials who have risen recently from far outside the political power centers of Beijing and Shanghai. Zhao spent almost three decades climbing the ranks in Qinghai, a north-western province bigger than Texas at the crossroads of some of the country’s largest ethnic groups. He eventually became the country’s youngest provincial leader, overseeing the doubling of Qinghai’s economy. After a stint running nearby Shaanxi province, he was catapulted to the top of one of the party’s most powerful offices, the Organisation Department. The office holds sway over appointments to senior patronage jobs across the country, from provinces to central party agencies. That made him instrumental in Xi’s efforts to position allies ahead of the current reshuffle.
Han Zheng, 63
For the first time in a three-decade career, Han Zheng is leaving Shanghai. His rise through a single city – even one as prestigious as the eastern financial center – is unusual for a party that grooms leaders by transferring them around the country. Han’s ascension to the Standing Committee is all the more remarkable after the shocking 2006 downfall of his then boss Chen Liangyu amid bribery charges and clashes with party central. Han has overseen the once-grey former colony transformed into a shimmering monument to modernity. As mayor, he led a US$44 billion (S$60 billion) infrastructure makeover for the 2010 Shanghai Expo. He has faced challenges since taking over as Shanghai party chief in 2012, from runaway property prices to lacklustre interest in a new free-trade zone to a New Year’s stampede that killed 36.