While Chinese President Xi Jinping has become the most powerful Chinese leader since Mao Zedong after securing an unprecedented third term in power, he is surrounded by a coterie of key officials who support his rule.
At the top of the hierarchy is the State Council, China’s “chief administrative authority”, headed by a 10-person executive committee that oversees provincial administration and 26 ministries.
While many top posts have traditionally been assigned with a view to appeasing China’s various political factions, Xi, who was re-elected unanimously on Friday China’s rubber-stamp parliament has sidelined rival groups such as the Youth League linked to former President Hu Jintao, former Premier Li Keqiang and former Vice Premier Wang Yang.
In their place, Xi has put together a crop of loyalists that were announced during the National People’s Congress, which ended on Monday.
Connor Swank, an analyst at the Center for Advanced China Research, said, “Greater party control over the government apparatus means that Xi will be able to bring the state under his personal control and ensure maximum congruence with his ideology and policy goals.” al Jazeera.
Carsten Holz, an expert on the Chinese economy and visiting professor at Princeton University, said the top appointees, despite their prominence, would ultimately have “little authority to make significant reforms without Xi Jinping’s approval”.
“Xi Jinping’s predicament from directing the economic development trajectory to securing the financial system under party control is well known,” Holz told Al Jazeera.
Some of the top officials supporting Xi include:
Premier Li Qiang
Li may be best known to outsiders for instituting Shanghai’s controversial “zero COVID” lockdown between March and June last year as secretary of the Communist Party in the country’s largest metropolis, replacing the former premier. Since October, Li has served as the second-highest-ranking member of the Communist Party’s Politburo Standing Committee, the seven-member committee comprising the party’s top leadership.
Li, 63, is a known Xi loyalist and has been a member of Xi’s protection network since serving under Xi in the 2000s as Communist Party secretary of Zhejiang province. According to Admi Ni, editor of the China NeiCon website, Li’s power is seen to “come directly from Xi personally”.
“This makes the current situation special, if not unique. His distance from Xi is far greater than what you might expect between a new premier and a party chief,” Nee told Al Jazeera.
“Traditionally the reason for the difference and distance is that first- and second-rank party officials have often come to their positions through political compromises that serve the interests of different networks and groups in the party.”
Executive Vice Premier Ding Xuxiang
Ding, 60, is also the director of the General Office of the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party, a position he has held since 2017 and works with Xi as his de facto chief of staff. In October, Ding also joined the elite Politburo Standing Committee, assuming the top position in the Chinese leadership for at least the next five years.
Ding began his political career in Shanghai, where he first met Xi, and is widely considered a close confidante of the Chinese leader. Unlike other top officials, Ding has never served as a Communist Party secretary in a province or major city, a typical path to power in the highly structured Chinese leadership.
Vice Premier He Lifeng
He, 68, will take over the economic portfolio from outgoing Harvard-educated economist Liu He. As the former head of the National Development and Reform Commission, he has long been seen as a Xi loyalist, but also a “highly capable technocrat” with a PhD in economics, according to the Brookings Institution.
He will work closely with Yi Gang, the governor of the People’s Bank of China, who survived the latest shake-up despite being near retirement age. Both will face huge challenges as China tries to get the economy back on track after the end of “zero COVID”, which includes low birth rates, a long-running asset crisis and slow growth, as Beijing reflected in nominal GDP. (GDP) target of 5 per cent for 2023.
Vice Premier Zhang Guoqing
Zhang brings corporate experience as former chairman of military contractor China North Industries Group Corporation (Norinco) and has served as party secretary of Liaoning province, mayor of Tianjin and mayor of Chongqing. According to analysts, he also has a PhD in economics and is considered another seasoned technocrat.
Foreign Minister and State Councilor Qin Gang
At 56, Qin is one of the younger members of the State Council. Qin was promoted to foreign minister in December, but did not hold his first press conference until this month. After criticizing the United States for its “reckless” behavior toward China, the top diplomat is expected to continue the tough “wolf warrior” tone adopted by Beijing in foreign affairs in recent years. Qin is a career diplomat who has held several high-profile positions, including as Chinese ambassador to the US from 2021 to 2023.