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Xi’s New Leadership Lineup Could Dramatically Change China’s Future

One week after China’s 19th Party Congress, at least 20 Chinese universities and colleges have already planned to establish research institutes promoting President Xi Jinping’s ideology.

Mr. Xi’s ideology, “Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era,” was voted unanimously as a guiding principle for the Communist Party, making him the first leader since Mao Zedong to write his name and ideas into the party constitution while still in power.

“The congress report and the party constitution revisions both show that Xi wants to be a kind of peer with the past leaders … I think it’s intended to give him an ideological status that can’t be challenged, like Mao in that sense,” The New York Times quoted political analyst Wu Qing as saying last month.

With his thought now enshrined in the constitution, Mr. Xi also announced five new members to serve on China’s top authority body, the Politburo Standing Committee. In total, the committee has seven members.

Li Hak-yin, a lecturer at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, told The Globe Post that “the latest appointment shows that Xi further centralizes his power as some established rules have been upset, e.g., no heir for the next term, and the appointments get rid of seniority, age and experience that Xi could bring his capable comrades to the center of Chinese politics.”

Yet at the same time, Mr. Xi also made compromise with competing factions. Wang Qishan, his closest ally, followed the party convention to retire at age 68. There was speculation that Mr. Wang, who turned 69 in July, would stay on as Secretary of the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection. Among the five new Standing Committee members appointed, most do not have a long history of working with Mr. Xi before he took office in 2012.

The absence of a young potential successor to Mr. Xi did break with tradition. Previously, successors generally have served for at least one term on the Party’s Politburo Standing Committee before taking on the role of general secretary. As all of the Standing Committee members are in their 60s, whoever succeeds Mr. Xi will violate the unwritten rule that top officials retire at age 68.

This raises the chance Mr. Xi could stay in power for a third term beyond 2022.

On the first day of the Party Congress, Mr. Xi gave a three-and-a-half-hour speech to outline the Party’s priorities for the next five years. He said, “the Chinese nation … has stood up, grown rich, and become strong – and it now embraces the brilliant prospects of rejuvenation … It will be an era that sees China moving closer to center stage and making greater contributions to mankind.”

China has shown more commitment to tackle global challenges, such as climate change. As the Trump administration announced it was withdrawing from the Paris climate agreement, Beijing moved to fill the vacuum in global leadership.

“It could be expected that China will continue to enhance its profile and discursive power internationally. But it does not mean that there will be clash and conflict with the current world order, because Xi emphasizes on Community of Common Destiny, the respect and recognition of economic globalization and market economy,” said Mr. Li.

He also suggested that an existing concern is how China would make use of its increasing geopolitical influence, such as its overseas military ports and mega infrastructure project, the “One Belt One Road Initiative.”

“The West may not be easy on these changes, and disputes could arise if China cannot convince the West its intention,” Mr. Li said.

U.S. President Donald Trump might be the first Western leader to face these changes.

The two presidents will meet in Beijing this week during Mr. Trump’s first visit to Asia. Trade cooperation and the North Korea nuclear crisis are among the key issues for discussion.

Last Wednesday, Mr. Trump spoke with and congratulated Mr. Xi on his elevation. In an interview with the Fox Business Network’s Lou Dobbs, Mr. Trump said, “people say we have the best relationship of any president-president, because he’s called president also. Now some people might call him the king of China. But he’s called president.”

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