Li Qiang expects to be prime minister in China, as Xi Jinping secures a third presidential term

(CNN) The country’s political elite formally endorsed Xi Jinping’s unprecedented third term as China’s president on Friday, cementing his control and making him communist China’s longest-serving head of state since its founding in 1949.

On Friday, Xi was reappointed as president for another five-year term by China’s legislature in a ceremonial vote in the Great Hall of the People in Beijing — a highly choreographed exercise in political theater meant to showcase the legitimacy and unity of the ruling elite.

He received 2,952 unanimous votes, followed by a standing ovation.

The reappointment of Xi, China’s most powerful and authoritarian leader in decades, was largely seen as a formality, having secured the 69-year-old president. A record-shattering third term as CPC chairman last fall.

In China, the presidency – or “Chief of state” In Chinese – it is largely a ceremonial address. The real power lies in the positions of party chief and military chief — two key roles that Xi also holds and were reappointed at a key Communist Party congress in October.

However, his reappointment as head of state formally completes his transition into a second decade in power.

It comes amid a broader shuffle of leadership roles in the central government, or State Council, and other government organizations that are increasing Xi’s already strong grip on the levers of power.

Li Qiang, one of Xi’s most trusted protégés, is expected to be chosen as China’s prime minister on Saturday.

Traditionally, the premiership is an influential role in charge of the economy, though over the past decade its power has been severely eroded by Xi, who has taken nearly all decision-making into his own hands.

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On Friday, the National People’s Congress (NPC) also appointed other key state leaders, including Zhao Liji as chairman of the assembly and Han Zheng as vice president of the country.

All of the newly appointed leaders took a public oath of allegiance to the Chinese constitution inside the Great Hall of the People.

The National People’s Congress also approved A comprehensive plan to reform institutions under the State Councilincluding the formation of a financial regulator, a national data office, and the renewal of the Ministry of Science and Technology.

The comprehensive reform is another move by Xi to consolidate Communist Party control over key areas of policymaking.

challenges ahead

While Xi has secured a firm grip on power, he faces a myriad of challenges at home and abroad.

China’s economy is struggling to recover from three years of harsh coronavirus restrictions, investor confidence is waning, and a demographic crisis looms as the country records its first population decline in six decades.

China also faces a series of diplomatic headwinds from Washington and other Western capitals, as relations have soured in recent years over Beijing’s human rights record, military buildup, handling of Covid and a growing partnership with Russia.

in Unusually direct remarks Xi on Monday accused the United States of leading a campaign to suppress China and causing serious internal troubles.

“Western countries led by the United States have contained and suppressed us in an all-out way, which has brought unprecedented serious challenges to our development,” Xi told a group of government advisors representing private companies on the sidelines of the NPC meeting.

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Russian state media reported that Russian President Vladimir Putin on Friday congratulated Xi on extending his term.

“I am confident that working together, we will ensure further growth of fruitful Russian-Chinese cooperation in various fields,” Putin said.

Putin also noted that Russia highly values ​​Xi’s personal contribution to “strengthening relations of comprehensive cooperation and strategic interaction” between Moscow and Beijing, TASS reported.

Xi has now entered a new historical territory.

No Chinese leader has held the title of head of state for more than 10 years, including the founding father of communist China, Chairman Mao Zedong.

Liu Shaoqi, who took over as head of state from Mao in 1959, was sacked in 1968 and persecuted to death a year later during Mao’s turbulent Cultural Revolution.

After Mao’s death, supreme leader Deng Xiaoping introduced presidential term limits into China’s constitution in 1982 to avoid the kind of chaos and disaster that saw Mao’s lifelong rule.

Deng also led institutional reforms to achieve greater separation of posts and functions between the party and the state.

However, those efforts were intense Something undermined itwhich greatly expanded the party’s grip on power – and its control over the party.

In 2018, China’s legislature abolished presidential term limits in a ceremonial vote, effectively allowing Xi to rule for life.

CNN’s Sandy Seidoo contributed to this report.

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