China’s week-long 20th National Congress ended on October 22 in Beijing. Xi Jinping secured a third term as leader of China’s ruling Communist Party on October 23. On the same day, a new seven-member Politburo Standing Committee was unveiled. The group represents the pinnacle of China’s political power.

Cai Qi, 66, is stepping down as party chief in Beijing to join the Standing Committee. The move came as a surprise to the outside world.

Despite not being on everyone’s list for the elite Politburo Standing Committee, Cai Qi was promoted to the highest echelon of China’s leadership.

According to Reuters, Cai Qi is considered a close political ally of Chinese leader Xi Jinping. He worked with Xi for 20 years in Zhejiang and Fujian provinces.

On Sunday he jumped to the Politburo without the typical first stop at the larger Central Committee.

In 2014, Cai climbed to the position of general office deputy director at the Xi-founded and -chaired National Security Commission in Beijing. He was given a ministerial promotion a year later, and the following year he was elected mayor of Beijing.

When he was appointed Beijing’s party secretary in 2017, he became a member of the Politburo.

Cheng Li, an expert on Chinese politics at the Brookings Institution, stated, “The fact that Cai was promoted four times over (those) four years suggests his importance to Xi Jinping.”

Analysts now predict that Cai will lead the Party’s Central Secretariat, the organization in charge of the routine operations of the Politburo.

According to Neil Thomas, a senior analyst for China and Northeast Asia at the Eurasia Group, besides Cai, only Yang Xiaodu, a close supporter of Xi Jinping, was “helicoptered” from outside the Central Committee straight into the Politburo in 2017. This promotion was last witnessed in 1992.

Cai received harsh public criticism in 2017—just a few weeks after the 19th Party Congress—for the forceful displacement of migrant laborers from Beijing’s outskirts. 

Online footage of Cai declaring the operation should be “a cut-and-thrust and tough confrontation” were leaked along with images of destroyed homes.

Yang Zhang, assistant professor at American University’s School of International Service in Washington, stated, “Cai was not popular as party secretary in Beijing, but again, loyalty trumped popularity.”

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