China's People's Congress has confirmed head of state and party leader Xi Jinping for an unprecedented third term as president. The 2,952 hand-picked delegates at their annual meeting in the Great Hall of the People in Beijing unanimously voted to extend his tenure at the head of state and military by a further five years. The parliament, which was not freely elected, also approved the largest government restructuring in a long time, which is intended to strengthen the second-largest economy for international competition, especially with the USA.
At the party congress in October, the 69-year-old Xi Jinping defied previously respected age and term limits and had an enduring leadership role enshrined in the party constitution. With his sole rule, he ties in with the founder of the state and revolutionary Mao Tsetung, who, however, had brought chaos to the country.
Xi Jinping was also confirmed as chairman of the Military Commission, which effectively mirrors the Communist Party's Military Commission at the government level, which he heads. He remains commander-in-chief of the People's Liberation Army. After the vote, two lines of honor guard soldiers goose-stepped through the hall and placed the constitution on the lectern, where Xi Jinping then took his oath of office to great applause.
The former First Vice Premier Han Zheng was also unanimously appointed as the new Vice President. The 68-year-old former coordinator for Hong Kong and Macao left the Politburo's Standing Committee in October, but remains a member of the People's Congress. Experts expect that Han Zheng, like his predecessor Wang Qishan (74), will also play a role in foreign policy.
At the nine-day annual conference, which will last until Monday, there will be the largest government reshuffle in ten years, with close confidants of Xi Jinping in particular moving up. Former Shanghai party leader Li Qiang is set to become the new prime minister on Saturday. The 63-year-old succeeds Li Keqiang (67), who was not in Xi Jinping's camp and is stepping down after two terms.
"These are not only loyalists who do everything Xi Jinping says, but they are also capable politicians," said Nis Grünberg from the China Institute Merics in Berlin. "They are capable professionals in many ways." The US think tank Brookings believes that the fact that Xi Jinping takes full control of the party and the state also opens up avenues for attack: "He and his hand-picked leaders must fulfill their promises. Xi Jinping will be praised for his achievements and blamed for his failures. "
China's version of a parliament also approved the government reshuffle and voted in favor of the institutional reform plan. In view of the pressure from the USA, the goal is a better starting position in international competition and more technological independence. The restructuring is also linked to job cuts in government bodies: Five percent of jobs are to be lost - the largest number since 1998.
A new Commission for Financial Supervision will be created, which will take over some of the functions of the central bank. This is intended to better coordinate the control of banks, insurance companies and innovative financial platforms as well as consumer protection. The Ministry of Science and Technology will also be reorganized and a separate national authority will be created to manage the increasing amounts of data.
From a Chinese perspective, the US is increasingly trying to cut off China's access to technology with export controls, sanctions and other restrictions. Xi Jinping complained earlier this week that the US and the West wanted to impede China's rise in the world with a "containment policy".
"In the face of international technological competition and the serious situation caused by external containment pressure, we need to further organize our technological leadership and management system to better coordinate our strengths and overcome challenges in core technological areas," the cabinet justified the restructuring. This will help China to "accelerate to achieve technological independence at a high level".