The upcoming 19th National Congress in China will be closely watched as the Party transitions to its next generation of ruling elite.
The most powerful officials announced will be members of the Politburo Standing Committee, which currently has 7 spots. It is effectively the top decision-making body of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), with current leader Xi Jinping expected to head the committee once again.
The Standing Committee is part of the larger Politburo, which has 25 seats in total.
In Xi’s campaign to consolidate power—taking down his enemies through his anti-corruption crusade—11 of the 25 have already been purged. The shakeup has observers and analysts guessing who might be getting promoted to the top.
Among the names mentioned is 61-year-old Cai Qi, who has known Xi for almost 20 years. Cai worked under Xi when he held top posts in Fujian and Zhejiang provinces. After Xi took power, Cai got promoted to become Beijing party chief. Some observers speculate that Cai will be promoted to the Politburo, which would be a meteoric rise given his relative lack of experience.
Chen Min’er, who was appointed to replace the recently ousted Sun Zhengcai as Chongqing party chief, is also cited as a major Xi ally. Some observers think he may become a member of the Standing Committee.
Meanwhile, it remains unclear whether Xi’s right-hand man Wang Qishan will remain in the Standing Committee. In 2002 former Party leader Jiang Zemin instituted a requirement that officials retire at the age of 68 (Wang turned 69 in July), as part of Jiang’s effort to maintain control of the Standing Committee.
For Wang to stay in spite of this informal rule would not be a big surprise. Wang has been spearheading Xi’s anti-corruption campaign, and Xi has signaled that he does not necessarily comply with others’ expectations.
Many of the officials taken down by Xi were those loyal to former leader Jiang Zemin, who make up an opposition faction. Sun, for example, a Politburo member once considered a potential successor to Xi, was ousted for his close relations to Jiang loyalist Zeng Qinghong.
Other Politburo members who are part of Jiang’s faction are set to retire, including Zhang Dejiang, a Standing Committee member who rose in the ranks owing to Jiang’s political patronage; Meng Jianzhu, head of the security apparatus, known to be part of the “Shanghai gang,” a group of officials who rose to power through ties with Jiang when Jiang ruled as Shanghai’s party secretary; and Standing Committee member Liu Yunshan, chief of the powerful propaganda department. In the past year, the Party’s disciplinary body has investigated and openly criticized Liu’s department, hinting at a possible shakeup there.
Under Jiang, in the 2000s, many officials were promoted or awarded based on their performance in Jiang’s campaign to eradicate the Falun Gong spiritual practice, a meditation discipline that teaches truthfulness, compassion, and tolerance. Jiang perceived Falun Gong’s presence as a threat to the Party’s authoritarian rule and began a campaign to eradicate the practice in July 1999. Since then, millions have been subjected to imprisonment, “brainwashing sessions,” and torture, according to the Falun Dafa Information Center.
Liu and Meng both climbed the political leader through participating in the persecution of Falun Gong.
More Jiang-associated officials continue to be targets of Xi’s purges.
The Central Committee, comprised of the Party’s top officials, will be “electing” the Politburo members at the 19th National Congress. In actuality, the members are already determined through back-door power plays.
Still, it is noteworthy to see who will become part of the Central Committee, as it is set to get reshuffled at the congress as well. Of the 205 members, 99 are set to retire or have already retired, while 21 members have been disciplined and removed from the committee, according to Hong Kong newspaper Ming Pao.
Gu Qing’er contributed to this report.