This weekend, the Chinese Communist Party kick-started its two weeks-long series of political meetings known as the Lianghui. Most of it will be a ceremonial act of the Party’s rubber-stamp legislature approving decisions already made by the Party leadership. However, there are several appointments to top positions that have not been formally announced.
One question that remains unanswered is what role Wang Qishan will play. He was Chinese leader Xi Jinping’s right-hand man—until this past October, when an unofficial rule about top officials’ retirement age forced Wang out of the upper echelons of the Party.
Wang spearheaded Xi’s anti-corruption campaign to purge the Party of political enemies—namely, officials who were loyal to former leader Jiang Zemin. He helped Xi clean house, but perhaps that made him an enemy of the opposition Jiang faction. During October’s Party leadership reshuffle, when the Xi and Jiang camps jockeyed for power, Wang did not make it out with a top appointment.
Everyone wondered if that would be the last China would ever see of Wang. But in January, Wang was unexpectedly named a representative to the National People’s Congress (NPC), a ceremonial body that mimics a parliament. The news fueled speculation that Wang would soon return to politics.
Sources close to Beijing recently told Reuters that Wang is likely to become vice-chair of the NPC, with a portfolio focused on Sino-American ties.
When the Lianghui meetings commenced this week, it became clear that Wang would come back—and in full force.
On March 4, during a “preparatory meeting” for the NPC, Wang was named to the “presidium,” a group of VIP officials, along with Xi, vice premier Li Keqiang, and other members of the Politburo Standing Committee—the Party’s most powerful decision-making body.
He was seated near the Committee members, in the front row. Hong Kong newspaper Sing Tao Daily analyzed this seating arrangement, suggesting that it represented Wang’s ranking within the Party—he would be the next most powerful after the Politburo Standing Committee.
Meanwhile, the Hong Kong Economic Times noted that it was unusual for Wang, a retired Politburo Standing Committee member—he was in the powerful elite until the leadership reshuffle in October 2017—to become a Congress delegate, and to skip ahead and become a “presidium” member right away.
The following day—the first day of Congress meetings—Wang was again seated with the most powerful, to the left of Zhao Leji, the anti-corruption czar who succeeded Wang in October.
Hu Ping, political commentator and honorary editor-in-chief of Beijing Spring, a New York-based Chinese-language magazine, said the positioning signaled that Wang would be equal status to the Politburo Standing Committee members, “like an eighth member. He will assume a very important role,” he said in an interview with The Epoch Times.
Hu also predicted that Wang would become the most powerful vice chair in Chinese Communist history, given that he is a trusted confidant of Xi. Since the position was created in 1982, the vice chair has been a mostly ceremonial position, having little actual powers within the Party. “Because Xi Jinping trusts him, Xi will give him lots of important tasks,” Hu said.
Political commentator Xia Xiaoqiang also noted that Wang’s resurgence is a setback for the Jiang faction, given Wang’s role in taking down many of its members.
Gu Qing’er, Zhang Dun, Luo Ya, and Lin Shiyuan contributed to this report.