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Officials in China's new State Council take their oaths of office.   © Kyodo
Politics

China plays it safe in cabinet reshuffle

Old hands outnumber new faces as Xi sticks with tried-and-true allies

BEIJING -- The new Chinese cabinet looks very much like the old as President Xi Jinping has kept allies in many choice ministerial posts, prioritizing continuity over fresh perspectives.

The National People's Congress moved Monday to retain 15 of China's 26 cabinet-level department officials, including such close Xi allies as Commerce Minister Zhong Shan, Education Minister Chen Baosheng, and He Lifeng, chairman of the National Development and Reform Commission. They serve on the State Council, led by Premier Li Keqiang.

Many of the Xi-faction officials were appointed in 2016 and 2017 as the president consolidated power, and leaving them in place is the natural choice if stability is a priority. Zhong handles trade relations with the U.S. alongside newly appointed Vice Premier Liu He -- a weighty responsibility as bilateral trade friction intensifies.

The Communist Party Youth League faction to which Li belongs has been largely sidelined in the reshuffle. Only a few from that group landed senior posts, including Vice Premier Hu Chunhua and Natural Resources Minister Lu Hao.

Aggressive reformers can also be said to have lost ground. Finance Minister Xiao Jie has been named a state councilor, moving on after just a year and four months in his ministerial role. As an expert in government finance and tax policy, Xiao had been pushing for a property tax, but the timeline and precisely what to cover have not yet been decided, with the idea of any such levy drawing stiff upper-class opposition.

The reshuffled State Council has again failed to promote many young faces. Members' average age hovered over 60 in its old and new iterations. Though Xi has opened the door to his own long rule with a constitutional revision abolishing presidential term limits, many on the council will have reached the retirement age of 65 five years from now, challenging the president to groom a new generation of officials to keep his support base strong.

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