July 15, 2017 2:31 am JST

Xi promotes loyalists from bottom of Communist Party pyramid

Chinese leader steering regional appointments ahead of important congress

OKI NAGAI, Nikkei staff writer

Chinese President Xi Jinping arrives for the G-20 summit in Hamburg, Germany, on July 6. © AP

BEIJING -- Ahead of a major leadership reshuffle this fall, Chinese President Xi Jinping has worked to secure support down to the regional government level by elevating lower-ranking party members into unusually important posts.

The Communist Party of China chooses its leadership at a National Congress held once every five years. This year's event will mark the start of Xi's second term as president. Other than Xi and Premier Li Keqiang, more than half of the powerful, seven-member Politburo Standing Committee is expected to retire.

Although Xi has tightened his grip on power, those loyal to former Presidents Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao are looking to expand their influence as well. Xi's next five years as China's leader will depend on how many of his own supporters he can place in key posts.

In preparation for the fall, the party held a local congress in each of China's 31 provinces and independent municipalities between October and the end of June. What was unusual was that many key posts went to the party's rank and file, not to the roughly 200 Central Committee members or 150 candidates to join that body. In fact, five new provincial leaders and 16 deputies were grassroots members.

Beijing is a perfect example. Neither Beijing Party Secretary Cai Qi nor his second-in-command, Mayor Chen Jining, is on the Central Committee. Cai had worked under Xi for years, while Chen was once president of Tsinghua University, Xi's alma mater. By giving precedence to people he has connections to, the president seems to be shoring up support even within regional governments.

It is unusual for somebody outside the Central Committee to become the leader of a province or municipality. It is even rarer for that to happen in such an important city as Beijing. Xi, who was anointed the party's "core" last fall, is wielding a greater influence even on regional matters.

The Chinese president returned to Beijing on Sunday from the Group of 20 summit in Germany, probably his last trip abroad before the party congress. Later this month, he will head to the resort town of Beidaihe for an annual meeting with party elders and top leaders to iron out details of the upcoming reshuffle.

In addition to ability and integrity, Xi will be looking for loyalty in the next crop of party leaders, a source familiar with the matter said. He is apparently looking to reduce the influence of retired party officials in the selection process. Given his ability to push through his unconventional choice for Beijing party secretary, he is likely to have significant leeway when it comes to national appointments as well.

The national party congress has lately been held in October or November. Back in April, there was speculation it could be pushed up to September this year since Xi seemed to have a strong grip on the process. But with Wang Qishan, Xi's close friend and member of the Politburo Standing Committee, accused of corruption, it is looking more likely that the congress will be held at the usual time.

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