China's Premier Li Keqiang and Xi Jinping's No. 2 is out of a job as four senior officials not in new leadership line-up in major reshuffle

Politburo Standing Committee member Wang Yang (left) and China's Premier Li Keqiang attend the closing ceremony of the 20th Chinese Communist Party's Congress at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on Saturday, October 22, 2022. Both have been booted out of Congress' top committee and will be forced to retire. - AFP

BEIJING, Oct 22 (The Straits Times/ANN): Four of the current seven supreme leaders ruling China, including Premier Li Keqiang and fourth-ranked Wang Yang, look set to retire in a surprising major reshuffle that will allow President Xi Jinping to surround himself with his allies.

Both Li and Wang’s names did not appear in a list of the newly elected 20th Central Committee of the Communist Party of China (CPC).

The new cohort of leaders, numbering 205 full members and 171 alternate members, come from the top rungs of the party, military and government.

Neither Li, who is No. 2 to President Xi Jinping in the Politburo Standing Committee, the apex of power with seven top leaders, nor Wang have yet to reach retirement age. Both are 67.

Third-ranked Li Zhanshu, 72, and seventh-ranked Han Zheng, 69, are also out of the new Central Committee, which means they, too, will fully retire. They had been expected to step down.

An informal retirement norm better known as the “seven up, eight down” rule sets at 67 the age limit for old and new members of the Standing Committee and the Politburo at the start of a new term. Politicians aged 68 or older are disqualified.

Wang was hotly tipped to take over Mr Li as the next premier. As far as seniority goes, he should have been next in line for the prime minister’s job.

Tradition also dictates that only those who have been vice-premiers and are capable of managing the economy can be appointed premier. Wang was vice-premier between 2013 and 2018, overseeing commerce, among other things.

The Central Committee members will elect the general secretary of the party and members of the Politburo and its standing committee. They will also elect members of the Central Military Commission, the country’s military high command. This will happen at the new Central Committee’s first plenary session to be held on Sunday.

Central Committee members were voted in on Saturday by around 2,300 delegates attending the once-every-five-year congress who represent the 96 million members of the CPC.

Delegates also elected members of the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection (CCDI), the party’s anti-corruption watchdog.

Based on the list of newly-elected members, Guangdong party chief Li Xi - an ally of Xi - is the most likely candidate to become the next anti-corruption czar, to be named on Sunday at the new Central Committee’s first meeting.

The surprising early retirement of Li and Wang deals a blow to the Communist Youth League faction, of which the two belong to.

Earlier on Saturday, delegates and journalists got a little dose of drama at the usually staid closing session of the congress on Saturday, presumably after delegates had cast their ballots to elect the new Central Committee.

At about 11am, as top leaders including Xi sat on stage at the Great Hall of the People, former leader Hu Jintao, 79, who was sitting next to Xi, was seen being persuaded by two men to leave. A frail-looking Hu appeared reluctant, even after one of them pulled him up from his chair.

Hu belongs to the Communist Youth League faction, whose influence has been curtailed by President Xi in recent years.

As he was about to be escorted off the stage, Hu said something to Xi, to which the latter nodded. He also appeared to have said something to his protege, Premier Li Keqiang, and patted him on the shoulder. There was no explanation for his sudden departure.

A party insider told The Straits Times that Li wanted full retirement because of health reasons, but party elders had tried to persuade him to stay.

Others who will step down include economic czar Liu He, 70, top diplomat Yang Jiechi, 72, vice-premier Sun Chunlan, 72, head of the Communist Party’s organisation department Chen Xi, 69, and former Xinjiang party chief Chen Quanguo, 66.

They are among 13 current Politburo members who are not in the new Central Committee.

The remaining 12 Politburo members whose names are on the list include Mr Xi’s allies - Shanghai party chief Li Qiang, 63, top aide Ding Xuexiang, 60, Chongqing party chief Chen Min’er, 62, Beijing party chief Cai Qi, 66, propaganda chief Huang Kunming, 65, Central Military Commission vice-chairman Zhang Youxia, 72, and Guangdong party chief Li Xi, 66.

Third-ranked vice-premier Hu Chunhua, 59, also from the Communist Youth League faction, is also in.

Xi is likely to fill the vacated four spots in the new Standing Committee from this pool of mostly loyalists.

On Saturday, delegates also passed amendments to the party charter that further cemented Xi’s power. - The Straits Times/ANN

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