China’s Xi Jinping is sworn in for a third term as president, and Li Qiang is expected to become prime minister

(CNN) Xi Jinping’s unprecedented third term as China’s president was officially endorsed by the country’s political elite on Friday, cementing his control and making him Communist China’s longest-serving head of state since its founding in 1949.

Xi was re-appointed president on Friday for another five years by China’s rubber-stamp legislature in a ceremonial vote at Beijing’s Great Hall of the People — a highly choreographed exercise in political theater meant to demonstrate the legitimacy and unity of the ruling elite.

He received a unanimous vote of 2,952, followed by a standing ovation.

The reappointment of Xi, China’s most powerful and authoritarian leader in decades, after turning 69, was seen as a formality. Breaking a norm for a third term as leader of the Chinese Communist Party Last fall.

In China, the presidency — or “Head of State” In Chinese — this is often a ceremonial title. Real power rests in the leadership of the party and the military — two key roles Xi will play at a major Communist Party congress in October.

Nevertheless, his reappointment as head of state officially completes his second decade in power.

It comes amid a broad reshuffling of leadership roles in the central government or the State Council and other state bodies, further deepening Xi’s already firm grip on the levers of power.

Li Qiang, one of Xi’s most trusted protégés, is expected to be elected China’s premier on Saturday.

Traditionally, the position of prime minister is an influential role in charge of the economy, although over the past decade, its power has been severely eroded by Xi, who has taken almost all decision-making into his own hands.

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On Friday, the National People’s Congress (NPC) also appointed other key state leaders, including Zhao Lezhi as the organization’s president and Han Zheng as the country’s vice president.

All the newly appointed leaders took a public oath of allegiance to the Chinese Constitution inside the Great Hall of the People.

NPC has also approved A major program to reform institutions under the State Councilincluding the creation of a financial regulatory body and the National Data Bureau and the reorganization of its Ministry of Science and Technology.

The overhaul is Xi’s next step to strengthen the Communist Party’s control over key areas of policymaking.

Challenges Ahead

Although Xi has a firm grip on power, he faces myriad challenges at home and abroad.

A population crisis is brewing as the Chinese economy struggles to recover from three years of strict zero-covid restrictions, investor confidence is waning and it recorded its first population decline in six decades.

China has faced a series of diplomatic interventions from Washington and other Western capitals as relations have deteriorated in recent years over Beijing’s human rights record, military build-up, handling of Covid and growing partnership with Russia.

In Unusually straightforward comments On Monday, Xi accused the US of leading a campaign to suppress China and causing its grave domestic woes.

“The West, led by the United States, has completely suppressed and oppressed us, which has brought unprecedented severe challenges to our development,” Xi told a group of government advisers representing private businesses on the sidelines of the NPC meeting.

On Friday, Russian President Vladimir Putin congratulated Xi on his extended tenure, Russian state media reported.

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“I believe that working together, we will ensure the further development of fruitful Russian-Chinese cooperation in various fields,” Putin said.

Putin also noted that Russia highly appreciated Xi’s personal contribution to the “strengthening of comprehensive cooperation and strategic communication ties” between Moscow and Beijing, TASS said.

G has now entered new historic territory.

No Chinese leader, including Communist China’s founding father, Chairman Mao Zedong, has served as head of state for more than 10 years.

Liu Shaoqi, who took over as head of state from Mao in 1959, was deposed in 1968 and died a year later under persecution during Mao’s tumultuous Cultural Revolution.

After Mao’s death, President Deng Xiaoping introduced presidential term limits into China’s constitution in 1982 to avoid the chaos and disaster seen under Mao’s lifelong rule.

Deng also led institutional reforms for a greater separation of positions and functions between the party and the state.

However, those efforts were drastic Undermined by Xiwho greatly expanded the party’s grip on power — and his own grip on the party.

In 2018, China’s legislature abolished presidential term limits in a ceremonial vote, effectively allowing Xi to rule for life.

CNN’s Sandy Sidhu contributed to this report.

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