China’s Xi Jinping Names New Leadership, But Not a Successor

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China’s Xi Jinping Names New Leadership, But Not a Successor

For the president of a country that has prided itself on calculated, meticulous transfers of power, Chinese President Xi Jinping doesn’t seem to be interested in naming a successor just yet.

In a televised ceremony, Xi announced the new members of the Communist Party’s Politburo Standing Committee, which The New York Times describes as “China’s highest council of power.” The NYT quotes Xi in his speech introducing the five new members, all men in their 60s:

“Over the past five years, we’ve done a lot. Some work has been finished, some we must continue with,” Mr. Xi, 64, said after briefly introducing the committee members, who stood stiffly in line. “A new era needs a new look, and even more needs new accomplishments,” he added.

The seven-man committee is comprised entirely of former colleagues of President Xi, though most of them are not longtime associates. Joining Xi and the Chinese premier, Li Keqiang, the five new members are comprised of one longtime Xi ally (Li Zhanshu), a former speechwriter for Xi (Wang Huning), the former mayor of Shanghai (Han Zheng), a reform-based politician (Wang Yang), and the former head of the party’s organization department (Zhao Leji).

The most notable aspect of this ceremony was that none of the five new members appeared to be the clear successor to President Xi. Usually, China scripts its transfers of power well in advance, and the lack of an heir apparent could signal that Xi’s political ambitions lie even higher.

Perhaps this should come as no surprise, given that China has already enshrined “Xi Jinping Thought” in much the same way it has enshrined “Mao Zedong Thought.” The philosophies of both of these men will be taught in schools and government agencies from now on. With the lack of a clear heir, Xi could be positioning himself for a longer reign as a cultural icon, one more akin to Mao’s.

Of course, it’s also possible that Xi simply wants to make the most of his remaining five-year term, and doesn’t want government officials to be waiting for his successor to take over. And there’s a slight chance that he just hasn’t found a successor yet. But that doesn’t seem as likely as a calculated choice to retain power for longer than the traditional five-year term.