Xi Wins Third Term as China’s President Amid Challenges

Xi Jinping has won an unprecedented third term as China's president in a highly choreographed parliamentary ceremony that demonstrated the commanding control he has over the Chinese Communist Party and the country.

Xi, 69, was voted in unanimously Friday by 2,952 members of China's rubber-stamp parliament, the National People's Congress (NPC), in the Great Hall of the People in Beijing. There were no other candidates. Afterwards, Xi shook hands with his ally and premier-in-waiting Li Qiang, who is poised to become China's number two leader and will oversee the economy.

In the swearing-in ceremony that was broadcast live on state television, Xi held up his right fist with his left hand on a copy of constitution and promised to build "a prosperous, strong, democratic, civilized, harmonious and beautiful socialist country that is modern and strong."

Xi held up his right fist with his left hand on a copy of constitution and promised to build "a prosperous, strong, democratic, civilized, harmonious and beautiful socialist country that is modern and strong."

Xi set the stage for a norm-breaking third term when he scrapped presidential term limits in 2018, although other top party leaders' terms remained limited to two.

Xi's appointment on Friday as the head of state and military chief, although largely ceremonial, confirmed his position as China's most powerful leader since Mao Zedong.

Installing loyalists

In recent years, he has further solidified his position by installing loyalists in top positions. On Friday, that continued as the parliament elected his allies Zhao Leji, 66, as parliament chair and Han Zheng, 68, as vice president. Both men were from Xi's previous team of party leaders at the Politburo Standing Committee.

Other Xi-approved officials are set to be elected or appointed to government posts in the coming days, including vice premiers, a central bank governor and numerous other ministers and department heads.

"This is an era of 'winner takes all' politics, and Xi is the biggest winner of them all. Whereas he got over a majority in the last politburo, Xi and his loyalists now have a virtual monopoly over the new leadership," said Wen-Ti Sung, a political scientist at the Australian National University.

But he also warned: "Xi probably both enjoys his now peerless political stature and feels lonely about having to carry the burden and blame alone. Xi's centralization of power reminds one of Spiderman's timeless quote: 'With great power comes great responsibility.'"

China's challenges

Xi faces a plethora of domestic, diplomatic and economic challenges as China emerges from economic stagnation from three years of stringent zero-Covid policy and widespread discontent that culminated in mass protests late last year. China's GDP grew just 3 percent last year, among its lowest in decades. In January, China reported that its population had fallen for the first time in 60 years and officials have urged local governments to try to boost births.

Beijing's relations with the United States have also hit a low point, after the U.S. imposed restrictions over exports of some high-tech products to China and shot down a Chinese high-altitude balloon that flew across North America last month. Secretary of State Antony Blinken has warned China of adverse consequences if it intervenes in the ongoing Ukraine conflict by supplying weapons to Russia.

This week, Chinese leaders' sharp words for the U.S. indicated the relationship remains rocky. Xi accused the U.S. of carrying out a foreign policy that he alleged is "all-round containment, encirclement and suppression of China" for bringing "unprecedented severe challenges to our country's development."

The White House brushed off the heated rhetoric from Beijing, saying Washington is not seeking conflict.

"We seek a strategic competition with China. We do not seek conflict," National Security Council Coordinator for Strategic Communications John Kirby told reporters. "We aim to compete, and we aim to win that competition with China, but we absolutely want to keep it at that level."

Analyst Wen-Ti Sung says China is caught between its allies of the past and those that it will need to improve relations with to become a bigger power.

"Xi's new China has to bridge its past and its future: With intensifying U.S.-China rivalry and the Ukraine War, China can't truly develop strong relations with potential new friends like Europe, Japan, and South Korea without leaving behind old partners like Russia and North Korea," Sung said.

"And China is having a tough time letting go of the security blanket that is its old partners. It will be interesting to observe whether and how China makes that strategic choice during Xi's third term."

By far the most important change analysts expect during the parliamentary session, which will end on Monday, would be the bolstering of the Communist Party's control in a sweeping overhaul of state and Communist Party entities.

A communique published at the end of a three-day meeting of the party's central committee last week stressed the importance of institutional reform to "bolster the centralized and unified leadership of the Party," according to the official Xinhua news agency.

The NPC on Friday passed government institutional reforms, including those in the science and technology ministry and the formation of a financial regulatory body and national data bureau. The changes in the party's role are expected to be unveiled after the session.

Analysts say Xi's tightening of party and state control over the private sector and confrontation with the West does not bode well for its economic recovery.

Source: Voice of America

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