Xi Jinping, China’s president, speaks at the podium during the opening of the 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China. (Photographer: Qilai Shen/Bloomberg)

Beyond Xi-Mania, Five Communist Party Shifts to Shape Next Term

(Bloomberg) -- Chinese President Xi Jinping’s historic consolidation of power captured most of the headlines out of the once-in-five-year leadership reshuffle that ended this week. Here are five other moves that could shape his second term:

1. A Third Potential Heir Emerges

Prior to the party congress, the individuals seen as leading candidates to potentially succeed Xi were Chongqing party boss and former aide Chen Miner, 57, and Guangdong top leader Hu Chunhua, 54. On Wednesday, Xi threw a third person born in the 1960s into the mix.

Beyond Xi-Mania, Five Communist Party Shifts to Shape Next Term

Ding Xuexiang, 55, is now the second youngest member of the Politburo after Hu. He has risen rapidly through the ranks after his 2007 appointment as the political secretary to Xi during his time as party chief of Shanghai. In 2013, he moved to Beijing to head the Presidential Office, where he accompanied Xi during nearly all of his overseas trips. He’s now in line to be Xi’s chief of staff.

It’s a question of “whether Xi will identify one of the Politburo members as worthy of promotion to the Standing Committee before 2022, and becoming putative successor,” said Avery Goldstein, Professor of Global Politics and International Relations at the University of Pennsylvania. “The system is less institutionalized, and the top leader can still be more powerful.” 

2. Politburo Becomes Grooming Ground

With Xi appointing no clear heirs to the Standing Committee, China watchers will pay more attention to the 25-member Politburo -- a decision-making group of senior officials that meets monthly -- as the main grooming ground for future leaders.

It’s also a key measurement of Xi’s power. Not only did the president manage to stack the body with his allies, he also removed three officials who weren’t yet at the conventional retirement age and who weren’t seen as being from his camp.

“The balance of the wider Politburo is extremely favorable to Mr. Xi,” said Tom Rafferty, China analyst from the Economist Intelligence Unit. “Several new entrants to this body are now well-placed to move onto the Standing Committee when it is next reshuffled in 2022.”

3. State-Owned Companies Lose Clout

Five years ago, five executives from state-owned enterprises were promoted to the Central Committee, the Communist Party’s elite body that meets at least once a year to set policy. This year, none were appointed to the 204-member committee.

Moreover, the Politburo Standing Committee -- China’s most powerful body -- included fewer people with experience at state-owned companies, according to calculations by Bloomberg Intelligence. The collective years of experience at state firms fell to 4 percent in 2017 from 11 percent in 2012 and 29 percent in 2007. By contrast, the newly elected committee has more experience running provincial governments than members of the two previous Standing Committees.

“That’s a reflection of Xi’s preference for leaders with on-the-ground experience managing the difficult trade-offs in China’s development process,” said Tom Orlik, Chief Asia Economist at Bloomberg Intelligence.

4. Commander Xi Tightens Grip on Military

Xi also shrank the Central Military Commission, the top military decision-making body, to seven members from 11, further cementing his authority as commander-in-chief of the world’s largest standing army. Four people out of the 7-member committee had previously been promoted by Xi.

During his first term, Xi introduced the most sweeping changes to China’s military since the 1950s. He began reducing the 2.3-million strong force while expanding the navy and strengthening rocket, cyber and outer-space capabilities.

"The structure and staffing of China’s military changed in dramatic ways," said Li Mingjiang, coordinator of the China program at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University. "A smaller committee could help Xi to simplify decision-making processes and make the army more capable of combat."

Xi, during his opening speech at the congress, pledged to complete the modernization of the armed forces by 2035, and to achieve a world-class military by 2050 that can fight and win wars across all theaters.

5. One Woman Out of 650 Million

In 1968, Mao Zedong famously said “women hold up half the sky.” These days China has about 650 million female citizens, but only one is represented on the Politburo -- down from two in the previous line-up. The Standing Committee has never included a woman.

Beyond Xi-Mania, Five Communist Party Shifts to Shape Next Term

The sole representative of roughly half the population is Sun Chunlan, 67. With a degree in mechanics, she started working at a local watch factory in northeastern China before taking party jobs. In 2009, she became the first woman in China since the 1980s to be party chief of a province, and later broke new ground by running the centrally controlled municipality of Tianjin. She first joined the Politburo in 2012.

"In many other parts of the world, women’s rights movements and legal advocates have pushed for greater gender equality and raise public awareness about these issues," said Maya Wang, senior researcher at Human Rights Watch in Hong Kong. "In China, sadly, many forms of organizing and activism are being suppressed under President Xi, making it very difficult to push for change."

©2017 Bloomberg L.P.