Xi Jinping secured a historic third term as China’s leader on Sunday and filled his inner circle with close allies, achieving after a decade in power complete dominance over the ruling Communist Party.
The party’s Central Committee elected Xi as its general secretary for another five-year term, bringing the country back towards one-man rule after decades of power-sharing among its elite.
“I wish to thank the whole party sincerely for the trust you have placed in us,” Xi told journalists at Beijing’s Great Hall of the People after the closed-door, rubber-stamp vote was announced.
Xi, 69, was also reappointed head of China’s Central Military Commission, keeping him in charge of the People’s Liberation Army.
He is now all but certain to sail through to a third term as the country’s president, due to be formally announced during the government’s annual legislative sessions in March.
Sunday’s developments cement him as the most powerful leader since Communist Party founder Mao Zedong.
In a wide-ranging acceptance speech on Sunday, Xi made signature remarks celebrating China’s rise as a global power and its success under his rule.
“The world needs China,” Xi said.
“After more than 40 years of unflagging efforts towards reform and opening up, we have created two miracles — rapid economic development and long-term social stability.”
Six of Xi’s proteges and allies were also unveiled on Sunday alongside him as members of the Politburo Standing Committee — the party’s apex of power that rules the country.
Li Qiang — a former chief of staff for Xi who oversaw a grueling two-month Covid lockdown in Shanghai this year — was named as number two in the Standing Committee.
This means he is likely to take over as premier from Li Keqiang, a former Xi rival who will retire next year.
Close aide Ding Xuexiang and Guangdong party chief Li Xi, a longtime confidante of the president, were among other allies named in the Standing Committee.
“The new Politburo Standing Committee confirms decisively that Xi has consolidated power at the top of the Communist Party to an extent unseen since the Mao era,” said Neil Thomas, a senior China analyst at Eurasia Group.
Xi has installed allies onto all seven seats of the Communist Party’s top decision-making body, allowing him to dominate the political system for the foreseeable future.
Alfred Wu Muluan, a Chinese politics expert at the National University of Singapore, said: “It is all Xi’s people, signalling he wants to rule even beyond a third term.”
Xi abolished the presidential two-term limit in 2018, paving the way for him to govern indefinitely.
Xi was swiftly congratulated on Sunday by some of China’s allies, including Russian President Vladimir Putin and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. The United States offered no immediate response.