Unprecedented third term for China's Xi Jinping

China’s president Xi Jinping was endorsed for a third term by the National People’s Congress (NPC) on March 10. The five-year reappointment would make him the longest serving leader of the People’s Republic of China since the country’s founding in 1949, and cements his position in charge of the second-largest economy in the world.

This comes following a 2018 decision to scrap China’s two-term limit for the presidency, and led to speculation that Xi intends to hold onto power indefinitely. In addition to the election, Xi has restructured the upper echelons of power in China in the last few years, replacing many in the Politburo Standing Committee with hardline loyalists this past October. This was preceded by replacing members of the Central Committee with other loyalists and is another consolidation of power. On March 11, Xi replaced Li Keqiang, the Premier — China’s number two, and someone often viewed as a liberal reformer — with Li Qiang, another close ally of the President. Another major replacement was Liu He, China’s Economic Tsar, considered central to China’s economic transition from fast- to slower-paced growth to tackle structural problems in the country’s economy. He will be replaced with another long-time Xi ally, He Lifeng. Lifeng’s role seems to clash with Li Qiang’s,, and his track record indicates that he may have interest in a statist approach to economic management.

It’s claimed that China’s presidential position is largely a ceremonial one, with a majority of the power over the country consolidated in the leader of the party and the leader of the army. Xi also holds both of those positions.

However, Xi’s new consolidation comes at a time when China is experiencing widespread and increasing issues. The country is grappling with slowing growth, partially due to zero-Covid restrictions, as well as condemnation for their human rights record and a much less positive relationship with the United States. Xi accused the United States of suppressing China and causing its domestic woes. According to a statement he made during the NPC meeting, Xi claimed “Western countries led by the United States have contained and suppressed us in an all-round way, which has brought unprecedented severe challenges to our development.” China and the U.S. trade annually for about 180 billion USD, and the United States is China’s biggest trade partner and second-biggest source for agricultural products.

With new policies on the horizon, as well as a new slew of economic crises, China is facing a very different situation than when Xi received his second term five years ago. How the new expected policies play out remains to be seen, especially with the number of Xi allies in power under the new government.