This year’s National People’s Congress (NPC) set the points for more open great power competition with the United States as it confirmed Xi Jinping for a third term as President of the People’s Republic of China. Having spent a decade shoring up his hegemony over the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and the Party’s over the country, Xi had the NPC rubber-stamp personnel choices and adjustments to the party-state structure so that China can reduce dependencies on other countries and better assert itself internationally.
It was a tacit admission that China now takes as given friction with the US – over global power and influence as well as security concerns in military and non-military areas like energy – and the need for a new balance between globalized supply chains and less dependency on other countries in critical technologies.
Installing new top government officials that support and have the skills to implement his agenda, Xi completed the personnel reshuffle he had begun at the 20th Party Congress last fall. The world will now watch to see whether Xi gives trusted lieutenants any freedom to set their own priorities.
Premier Li Qiang, a Xi loyalist, used his first speech in his new office to voice business-friendly sentiments, warn against overhyping US-Chinese decoupling, and signal a shift to “high-quality development” (as opposed to high-speed growth) and strong support for science and technology. Optimists say Xi will give him room to maneuver, while skeptics see Li as business-friendly cover for a president intent on prioritizing politics and ideology over the economy.
All leadership posts in the central CCP and state leadership are now filled by people Xi trusts, including one solitary woman, Shen Yiqin, who was made a State Councilor in China’s cabinet. The appointments further integrate state office with the Xi-dominated CCP: Leading state officials are party cadres first and only Premier, a State Councilors, the chairman of the NPC and so on after that.
MERICS analysis: “For Xi, the NPC marked the beginning of a new five-year term in which he holds all the reigns – he controls the agenda, key people and institutions,” says Nis Grünberg, MERICS Lead Analyst. “Xi is adamant about making China strong and globally influential again. But his third term will be defined by the tension between this vision, and the determination of the US to keep China from rising to become a global peer.“
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