Duoweiwang, a major foreign propaganda media headquartered in Beijing, published an opinion piece titled “The Mystery of the 20th National Congress of the Communist Party of China” in February. 23. According to the article, whether Xi Jinping would be re-elected and who might be his successor have become western media’s primary concern.
Chris Buckley, a senior Australian journalist who spent 24 years covering news in China, wrote an article in the New York Times on February 14 that “one great uncertainty looms over China, and it is of Mr. Xi’s own design: Nobody, except maybe a tight-lipped circle of senior officials, knows how long he wants to stay in power, or when and how he will appoint a political heir. Mr. Xi seems to like it that way.
Christopher K. Johnson, president of the China Strategies Group and former Central Intelligence Agency analyst of Chinese politics, told the New York Times that “Xi’s political genius is the strategic use of uncertainty; he likes to keep everyone off balance.”
The article also wrote that keeping everyone guessing could help bolster loyalty to Xi and give him more time to judge potential successors. However, delaying the nomination could intensify anxiety and even widen rifts in the Communist Party elite.
Of the seven members of the current Standing Committee of the Politburo, the highest level of power in the Communist Party, Vice Premier Han Zheng and Li Zhanshu, chairman of the Standing Committee of the Communist Party’s National People’s Congress, could retire, according to the unwritten age limit for the party’s top officials. Buckley speculated in his article that “That unspoken rule says that members who are 68 or older should step down when a congress comes around. Mr. Xi could also engineer more retirements, including of the premier, Li Keqiang, or expand the size of the Standing Committee, which is not fixed by rule.”
The article also pointed out that possible candidates to enter the top power level of the Chinese regime might include Chen Miner, Hu Chunhua, and Ding Xuexiang. All three are members of the Politburo, and according to age rules, they could also serve in the Standing Committee for ten years.
So far, however, no one has received hints that Xi may have special plans ahead of the 20th National Congress.
BoZhiyue, a consultant who studies Chinese elite politics in New Zealand, told the New York Times that Xi “has to bring in new people, but he doesn’t want any of them labeled as his successor. There’s the big dilemma for Xi Jinping — how to promote them but not too far and limit his options.”
According to Johnson’s estimation, the overall change in Politburo, the second tier of Communist Party power, could be even more significant. The retiring members of the Politburo could create 11 vacancies that Xi could use to promote “loyal” officials in their 50s or early 60s who are now provincial leaders.