China’s Communist Party on Sunday formally reelected Xi Jinping the party’s general secretary for another five years, paving the way for his historic third term as Chinese president.

The widely expected announcement comes after a week-long Communist Party Congress during which Xi further cemented his grip on power.

Party faithful endorsed his “core” position in leadership, and approved changes to the constitution making Xi’s political vision central for China’s future.

The decision tilts the Asian powerhouse decisively back towards one-man rule after decades of power-sharing among its elite.

Chinese state media said Xi was also reappointed as head of China’s Central Military Commission.

“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 following the announcement.

He promised to “work diligently in the performance of our duties to prove worthy of the great trust of our Party and our people.”

“China cannot develop without the world, and the world also needs China,” he continued. “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.”

Xi is now almost certain to be given and third presidential term during the annual legislative sessions in March.

In 2018, he scrapped the presidential two-term limit, allowing himself to rule indefinitely.

The 69-year-old leader is now expected by some to try to stay in power for life.

Delegates at the congress also chose a new Central Committee of 205 party officials — only 11 women were named to the committee. Central Committee members went on to elect the all-powerful Politburo Standing Committee, which Xi will again lead.

A list of officials in the new Central Committee revealed the replacement of four out of seven Standing Committee members, including Premier Li Keqiang, allowing Xi to install loyalists to the body.

They include Shanghai Party boss Li Qiang, close aide Ding Xuexiang and Guangdong Party chief Li Xi, state media reported 

Xi and the other Standing Committee members appeared for the first time as a group before reporters Sunday at the Great Hall of the People, the seat of China’s ceremonial legislature in central Beijing.

Most powerful man since Mao

Since he took office in 2013, Xi has achieved a concentration of power like no modern Chinese ruler other than the modern country’s founder Mao Zedong.

Xi has pushed forward the central role of the Communist Party, expanding state control over society and the economy.

He has also overseen China’s rise as the world’s second-biggest economy, a huge military expansion and a far more aggressive global posture that has drawn strong opposition from the United States.

Despite nearly unchecked power, Xi faces huge challenges over the next five years, including managing the nation’s debt-ridden economy and the growing US rivalry.

International reaction to Xi’s power grab

Russian President Vladimir Putin congratulated Xi, adding he was looking forward to developing a “comprehensive partnership” between the two countries. According to a statement on the Kremlin’s website, Putin told Xi the election results “fully confirm your high political authority.”

Apart from Putin, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un also sent a congratulatory letter to Xi. 

‘Winner takes all’ in Chinese politics

Hsin-Hsien Wang, an expert on Chinese politics at the National Chengchi University in Taiwan, told DW that Xi’s reappointment and his picks for the Politburo shows that “political loyalty is very important.”

“This outcome means in the next five years, there will not only be a lack of a checks-and-balances mechanism in the party, but it will also become much more difficult for different opinions to emerge,” he said.

Wen-Ti Sung, a lecturer in Taiwan Studies at the Australian National University (ANU) currently based in Taipei, said the result was proof that there is a “winner-takes-all situation in China’s politics today.”

Sung said, “Xi is showing to the world that they should stop trying to hope” for a “factional power struggle within China today or going forward.”

“There will be no other power figure of comparable stature who can play a balancing role or be the focal point for organizing any meaningful organized opposition to check Xi’s power,” he added.

Sung also warned that the Taiwan issue would likely remain in focus. Xi has threatened to retake the independent island that China considers its territory by force.

Meanwhile, Alfred Wu, an associate professor from the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy in Singapore, told DW that those picked for the Politburo were people who have worked with Xi in the past.

“I would say he wants the fourth term and this group of people will support him when the decision-making about the fourth term comes. The overall structure is to make sure that he is No.1 in China for at least 10 years,” he said.

Wu added China’s political system was “no different than a dictatorship,” giving the example of Xi insisting that the country’s zero-COVID strategy remains the best course of action despite the rest of the world having reopened.

Ian Chong, a political scientist at the National University of Singapore, said Xi’s “wolf-warrior diplomacy will likely continue and there is a chance that it can get supercharged.”

“The question will be how democratic states around the world decide to respond to the increased toughness,” he said, adding that there would be more potential for friction.

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