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China’s palace politics: Xi Jinping loyalists compete for power

He Lifeng and Li Qiang

Xi Jinping will use the March lianghui — the joint sessions of China’s rubber-stamp parliament and political advisory body — to confirm a batch of appointments to critical roles running the world’s most populous country and rising military superpower.

They will be mostly men he has known since his youth or trusted officials with whom Xi has worked over decades earlier in his career, as well as rising stars who have demonstrated their allegiance to the country’s most powerful leader since Mao Zedong.

The appointments will mark the completion of Xi’s consolidation of power as he embarks on an unprecedented third five-year term as leader of the Chinese Communist party. They also signal the emergence of a new set of factions among Xi’s acolytes and loyalists.

Wu Guoguang, who worked as an adviser to former Chinese premier Zhao Ziyang, wrote in a recent essay published by the China Leadership Monitor, a US research group, that a “new era of factional politics is unfolding”.

“Xi’s status and authority as top leader are unlikely to meet any challenges from within high-ranking CCP cadres, but factional competition is already starting to take place among the various groups of Xi’s followers,” said Wu, now with Stanford University and the US-based Asia Society think-tank.

He Lifeng, left, is expected to replace Liu He as China’s economic tsar, while Li Qiang, right, is set to become China’s next premier © FT Montage/AFP/Bloomberg

A hallmark of Xi’s leadership over the past 10 years has been the centralisation of decision-making, which has reduced the influence of other senior leaders. He has already uprooted the previously powerful networks aligned with predecessors Hu Jintao and the late Jiang Zemin.

While posing no threat to Xi’s ironclad hold on power, the new factions will compete for control and influence — and ultimately who succeeds Xi at the very top of the party.

Analysts also believe that understanding the backgrounds, personalities, ideological leanings, policy preferences and personal networks of Xi’s top lieutenants is crucial to elucidating the murky and often unpredictable world of Chinese politics.

“In the years to come, factional competition will be inevitable . . . generational change, in terms of internal elite circulation and power succession, will also fuel power struggles among those sub-Xi factions that are now taking shape,” Wu said.

Wu, in his essay, says four…

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