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President Xi cements control

By Dandan Wan

29 March 2018

The highlight of the 13th National People’s Congress this month was the amendment to the constitution removing the two terms limits on the presidency thus allowing Xi Jinping to remain in office for a third term. President Xi also consolidated his power by ensuring that his supporters were appointed to top state and government positions. Despite his exclusion from the Politburo standing committee last October due to age limits, Wang Qishan, the former anti-graft tsar and Xi’s longstanding ally, was elected as Vice President. He is expected to be in charge of China’s global interests, especially the hot issue of dealing with the Trump administration amid the looming Sino-US trade war. This appointment is significant since the end of term limits extends to the Vice President. Li Zhanshu, the most trusted ally of Xi, took the helm of the national legislature body (NPC) to pursue China’s ongoing legal reform. Liu He, another Xi confidante and key economic advisor, was elevated to one of the four Vice Premiers under Li Keqiang.

 

‘The party leads everything’

The reorganization of different organs further blurred the lines between the state and the party and the party’s political power has grown in prominence. Four former party ‘leading groups’ headed by Xi respectively on reforms, cybersecurity, financial and economic affairs and foreign affairs have been upgraded to ‘commissions’ with higher authority, which further strengthened and institutionalized the party’s leadership in key issues. Other state organs now come under the party institutions. For example, the CCP’s United Front Work Department will take responsibility for the State Administration of Religious Affairs and the Overseas Chinese Affairs Office. The State Administration of Civil Service was incorporated to the CCP’s Central Organization Department in a bid to strengthen the party’s oversight of all government employees. China Central Television (CCTV), China National Radio (CNR) and China Radio International (CRI) were merged into a mega broadcaster called Voice of China, led by the Central Publicity Department of the Central Committee. Through these changes, the Communist Party’s control was further strengthened in political, economic, cultural and foreign affairs. The constitution was also amended to note that the party ‘leads everything.’

 

Finance

The NPC also tried to tackle growing financial irregularities such as price manipulation, corruption and rent-seeking. The banking and insurance regulatory bodies were merged into one called China Banking and insurance Regulatory Commission. Its power was actually weakened since the job of drafting regulatory frameworks for banking and securities industries was shifted to the central bank--- People’s Bank of China (PBOC). Now headed by Yi Gang, a firm pro-marketer, the PBOC is expected to further open up China’s economy.

 

Foreign Policy

The NPC also agreed changes to China’s diplomacy. The budget for external affairs was increased Foreign Minister Wang Yi was promoted to State Councilor. In addition, a new International Development Cooperation Agency was established to strengthen strategic planning and better serve the country’s global strategy including promoting the Belt and Road Initiative. China, as the second largest economy in the world, is shifting rapidly from an aid recipient to a major donor. These moves showed that China is keen to raise its profile on the world stage.

 

Conclusion

Xi’s grip on power was further reinforced during this NPC. Apart from scrapping the presidential term limit, placing his trusted allies in key positions, Xi’s political theory was also enshrined in the Constitution, giving him the same status as Mao Zedong and former paramount leader Deng Xiaoping. The changes also helped the party to consolidate its control over state organs. With a clear and ambitious agenda for change, China’s economic and foreign policies are now better resourced and as a result China is expected to assert more influence in global affairs.